Aymeric Laporte has had a successful season but different from what he is used to. He has already become a Premier League title winner for the third time in four years and has scored the goal that won the Carabao Cup. Now, he is preparing for a Champions League final the same week he was named to the Spanish team for Euro 2020, having finally tired of waiting for the call of Didier Deschamps and a first senior selection. with France.
But just as he looks forward to playing a major tournament for the first time and regular international football at the age of 27, he faces stiff competition for a nailed-down spot at club level. Laporte has started 24 of City’s 60 games this season, despite being relatively injury-free. It’s only five games more than last season, when he spent nearly six months on the sidelines with severe knee ligament damage.
Laporte’s long absence was the first and perhaps the most serious of the many blows City’s title defense suffered last season and revealed the center-back’s lack of coverage following Vincent Kompany’s departure. This ultimately led to the arrival of Ruben Dias, the Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year, who has been hailed as the catalyst for this season’s resurgence at the top of English and – pending the outcome. in Porto on Saturday – European football.
The rebirth of John Stones, meanwhile, has been one of the stories of the season. Since joining Pep Guardiola’s premier starting lineup this winter, Stones has built a formidable partnership with Dias which has cut Laporte’s playing time. And when a team performs as well as Guardiola’s currently, it can be difficult to dislodge those who leave each week, even for a player named in the PFA’s Team of the Year just two seasons ago.
Once considered an automatic starter, it is now turned. Laporte had to be patient, compete for a place, wait for his chances and try to grab them as they arrived. “It’s a very different challenge because I’ve never played less than this year,” he says. The independent. “For me, it’s very different, it’s hard to accept.”
There is only admiration for the impact of Dias and, in particular, for the resurgence of Stones. “It’s good. He hasn’t played the last two years but he’s back now. I’m happy he enjoys his football,” said his Stones’ City teammate, but Laporte is skeptical of the idea. that the extra competition helped his own game. “I didn’t have any advantages because I played less,” he says, “but that’s good.”
As tough as those out-of-side spells were, Laporte tried to channel that frustration into his work on the training ground and keep his momentum going. “I try to train everyday as usual. I try to keep my rhythm and when I have to play I try to do it as best I can. When an opportunity has fallen on him, he believes he has seized it with both hands.
“Personally, I’m happy with what I’ve done this season,” he adds, when asked to reflect on his individual campaign, which has to say the least impressed the head coach of Spain. , Luis Enrique. “When I played, I played really well. Of course you can always improve, but I’m happy with it all, and hope I can make a really good Euro, so we’ll see what can happen.
Laporte said the same in a pre-game interview before starting Turf Moor in February, but expressed that hint of disappointment by insisting that he is happy at City and hopes to stay for many years to come. Now when those words are returned to him, there is a suggestion that maybe things have changed. “When you asked me that in that period I was playing more I think or maybe less but I don’t know, the situation is very different now. I will not say anything here, it is something personal.
But whatever his future may be, his goal and that of everyone else at City are only on Saturday’s final. It will likely be Dias and Stones who start in the center of the defense against Chelsea at the Estadio do Dragao. Laporte’s left foot and versatility mean he could move to left-back – he lined up alongside the Stones and Dias in this game at Burnley – but taking that place from fit Oleksandar Zinchenko would be cruel, while Joao Cancelo is also competing to play.
One thing in Laporte’s favor is his seniority and experience, and what he has learned from City’s Champions League eliminations mistakes since joining. “We were unlucky,” he said of these disappointments from Liverpool, Tottenham and Lyon. Laporte himself made two very unfortunate and unusual mistakes in the Spurs loss rematch, right in the middle of his best form spell in a city jersey. “Obviously we’ve learned a lot about it and we’ve tried to better manage these kinds of games.”
City have notably improved their biggest Achilles heel: conceding counterattacks. That was the problem in the last eight games against Lyon last season, but he has barely registered in the race for the final so far, with games against Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain – two of the Europe’s deadliest teams in transition – sailed safely. The solution, according to Laporte, is simple.
“I think we have more ball, we keep it more,” he said. Guardiola has hardly encouraged a one-lane approach in the past, but City are now much more methodical in possession, keeping the ball in order to protect it from their opponents, not only so they can build attacks. “That’s why we don’t concede so many goals. This is the only thing that, in my opinion, has changed. “
This change of approach has given Guardiola’s side a completely different aura. They still occasionally dazzle their opponents by landing attack combinations, but they’re just as likely to strangle them now in submission. It could make all the difference on Saturday and certainly gave City an air of confidence to lead at the Estadio do Dragao.
“We are confident because we had a very good season,” added Laporte. “We’ve already won two trophies and that’s something we love to do.” His Wembley header against Tottenham took home the first of those trophies and was the personal highlight of his personal campaign at City, his celebration was that of a player happy to have taken his moment.
What about another winning goal in a flagship final, possibly in Porto this weekend? “I’m dreaming with it,” he chuckles, knowingly. Laporte is aware that he may have to wait to make an impact on Saturday, and any luck can only come from the bench, but another big moment from one of Europe’s main center-backs is still possible, and a season with more challenges than usual could still end in a treble.