Oleksandr Zinchenko’s Manchester City future looks grim
Background photo by Sarmad Yaseen, CC BY-SA 4.0
Oleksandr Zinchenko was an unused substitute for Manchester City in Saturday’s 4-0 win over West Ham United - the first time he’d made the Premier League matchday squad in over a month. The 21-year-old spent most of last season on the periphery, vowing to fight for his place in the squad this campaign, but 2018/19 has seen history repeating itself.
Zinchenko has made only four appearances in all competitions this season – one in the Premier League, one in the Champions League and two in the EFL Cup. He may have thought Benjamin Mendy’s recent injury layoff would give him a reprieve in the first-team, but Pep Guardiola opted for Fabian Delph instead.
With the Ukrainian international now third in the left-back pecking order and having never played in his preferred central midfield role under Guardiola, is it time for him to search for a new club?
Guardiola doesn’t trust him
When Mendy and Delph were both injured last season, Zinchenko enjoyed a brief run in the City first-team, featuring in six of their seven league games between mid-January and mid-March. He impressed Guardiola enough to earn public praise but has made only two league appearances in the last eight months.
Zinchenko isn’t a natural full-back. He’s operated as somewhat of a playmaker for his country and was signed by City with the reputation of being a midfielder. His instinct to get forward is what Guardiola likes from fullbacks, but a lack of experience in the defensive role might be what puts the City manager off from selecting him regularly.
The 21-year-old has lost only one game from 18 appearances and has shown himself to be a combative and composed footballer with great short-distance passing and quick feet, but his ability to mark opponents, win aerial challenges and prevent crosses from out wide won’t be his strong suit.
Competition in Manchester City’s midfield is fierce
If Zinchenko can’t get a game as a makeshift left-back, he’d surely jump at the chance to play in his preferred central-midfield role. Unfortunately, the squad is well-equipped with players who operate in his position – David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden – so game time will continue to allude the Ukrainian. He hasn’t once played there for City.
He’s learned a lot from Guardiola in the last two years, developing well as a young player, but City just have better talent ahead of Zinchenko in the pecking order. It means he’s going to have to move away from the Etihad Stadium for regular playing time as he’s racked up only 623 minutes of league football since his 2016-move from Ufa. A January move looks almost certain, but in what capacity?
What are Zinchenko’s options?
City tried to sell the 21-year-old over the summer but Zinchenko refused to leave before he was due to undergo a medical at newly-promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers. Wolves may reignite their interest if they catch wind of his availability in January, but the Ukrainian still has 18 months left on his contract so he might prefer a short-term loan move this time around.
Zinchenko clearly doesn’t want to leave permanently until he must, likely because he’s learning from one of the most revered managers to have ever graced football. City looks on course to defend the Premier League title this season too, so any move away from the Etihad would be a step down.
In addition to Wolves’ interest, Napoli, Real Betis and Fulham have also been linked with Zinchenko, so he shouldn’t be short of options. A temporary move away would ensure he stays sharp and gives him another chance to make his case to be in the City first-team ahead of the 2019/20 season.