Gary Neville noted that Manchester City shelling out £50m for Kyle Walker last summer constituted the moment he fully realised the unique grandiosity of 2017 transfer market.
Shelling out such a sum for a full-back is indeed virtually unheard of, but with the midway point of the campaign approaching Pep Guardiola’s emphasis on bringing in fresh blood at full-back looks like they key reason behind his club’s ascent to a league of its own this season.
Pablo Zabaleta, Gael Clichy and Aleksandar Kolarov were all moved swiftly out of the picture and, along with Walker, Real Madrid’s Danilo and AS Monaco’s Benjamin Mendy were drafted in, while Fabian Delph has been converted into a disciplined full-back as well.
The vitality in that area has given City a powerful defensive core and, more importantly, sped up and added sophistication to their entire build-up play, giving the likes of Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva the ability to pick up better positions infield.
And following yet another shocking display from Matteo Darmian, this time during a galling 2-1 defeat to Bristol City, the gap between the two sides when it comes to the quality in that area couldn’t feel more pronounced.
Manchester United are at their best with Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young as full-backs. The Ecuadorian provides strong performances every week and Young’s crossing ability, alongside a general air of attacking nous, ensures Jose Mourinho‘s men can boast a mixture of impetus and reliability in that area.
Beyond that, however, the landscape looks pretty bleak.
In fact, that those two are United’s only preferable full-back options – save for Luke Shaw, who looks to be encountering a much needed resurgence but could, you feel, fall victim to injury or Mourinho’s scepticism at any time – is a bleak notion in itself.
They are both 32 and not even full-backs by trade, and you imagine they only have one season at the top left in them at best.
Daley Blind and Darmian, who bore the resemblance of a broken down stream-train at Ashton Gate, can simply no longer be considered reliable back-up options. They have looked more like damaged relics from a failed Louis van Gaal era this season.
Man City shelled out nearly £140m on full-backs last summer and find themselves reaping the benefits. Mourinho may not like it, but he needs to take a leaf out of the book of his old nemesis next summer – or even in January if he can.