The curious case of Fabian Delph
Fabian Delph has proved to be a revelation for Pep Guardiola's convincing side, in a role unfamiliar to him. Here, we take a closer look.
On July 17, 2015, just six days after he had revealed his plans to remain at Villa Park and captain the side, Fabian Delph opted for a surprising u-turn and joined the blue half of Manchester for an £8million fee.
The move was heavily scrutinised by critics, journalists and supporters - many suggested he was eager for a significant wage increase as opposed to regular playing time. Pep Guardiola's arrival during the following campaign meant the Englishman's presence was increasingly quiet amidst their handful of summer acquisitions.
In a miraculous turn of events since, Delph finds himself as a regular starter and an important contributor within City's side. They continue to seemingly cruise towards their second Premier League title in four seasons - with Delph featuring from a fullback position.
It is a role that he's had little experience with, from his tenure with both Leeds and the aforementioned Villa. Having started seven of the sky Blues' league fixtures this term, he has earned praise for his defensive displays from Pep after effortlessly adapting to an unfamilar position.
Now being lauded by many including the critics who once questioned his decision-making in the past, Delph's journey has shaped as a story of a relevation, which is similar to Victor Moses' success with Chelsea last term.
Pep knew he had to experiment with his options after summer acquisition Benjamin Mendy sustained a serious knee injury back in late September. In a bold move to counter Chelsea's 3-5-2 formation, he opted to start Delph at left-back as part of a four-man backline during their all-important encounter at Stamford Bridge.
He excelled on the evening, ending the match with three interceptions, five tackles and a passing accuracy stat of 92.1% too. Chelsea tried to exploit the right flank, but City's new makeshift fullback stood firm and avoided lapses in concentration to isolate the hosts.
So the question was, had City found a capable fullback within their squad to effectively replace Mendy? Yes, they had.
He followed up this performance with solid displays against both Stoke and Burnley, showing tactical awareness to adapt accordingly in different defensive situations and either push forward with probing runs without losing defensive shape or combining well with other team-mates to add another dimension going forward - an additional problem to contend with.
Although he did not showcase this level of confidence during their hard-fought away victory over Serie A side Napoli in the Champions League group stages, he was again firm under pressure from their attacking trio and avoided being exposed for a lack of defensive experience at the highest level.
Six interceptions and five tackles against Leicester is perhaps his best performance of the campaign thus far, not least to mention a 95.2% pass accuracy stat given Leicester's high-pressing style.
He linked up well with Leroy Sané and unsurprisingly earned an 8 WhoScored rating too as City continue to surprise many by remaining consistent.
Delph has had quite a ridiculous career to date. It's interesting to see just how a talented player, previously flirting with the possibility of relegation, could potentially lift his first Premier League title this term.
All of this at the age of 28, Guardiola is clearly content to have found a ball-playing, technically strong fullback who suits their game plan. Sure, it's not the same explosiveness or unpredictability that Mendy can offer, but Delph's achievements and experience across the pitch are highly valuable.