Why Unai Nunez could be the next Aymeric Laporte at Man City
According to Football Insider (h/t Manchester Evening News), Man City have joined the race to sign Spanish defender Unai Nunez, who currently plies his trade with Athletic Bilbao in the La Liga.
Premier League rivals Arsenal and Everton, as well as reigning Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich, are also interested in the 22-year-old centre-back, who has been making waves with his impressive displays at Bilbao in the Spanish top-flight. (Football Insider h/t Manchester Evening News)
As per the report, Pep Guardiola is keen to bolster his squad with a new centre-back and a back-up goalkeeper during the mid-season trading period and Unai Nunez has emerged as a potential target for the reigning Premier League champions.
The Basque-born centre-back rose through the youth ranks of Bilbao before bursting on to the scene in the La Liga during the 2017-18 campaign.
Nunez started league 33 games over the course of a hugely impressive debut season at the senior level but he has played second-fiddle to more accomplished central defenders like Yeray Alvarez and Inigo Martinez ever since.
Having started only 11 games in the Spanish top-flight last term, the highly-rated 22-year-old has only started 5 league fixtures for his boyhood club this season.
However, despite his limited involvement on the club front, Nunez earned his first senior international cap for Spain as a late substitute for Sergio Ramos in a Euro 2020 qualifier against the Faroe Islands back in September.
Interestingly, Man City’s links with Unai Nunez ahead of the mid-season trading period is reminiscent of the situation heading into the 2017-18 winter transfer window.
The Citizens eventually smashed their club-record fee to sign Aymeric Laporte from Athletic Bilbao for a staggering £57million in January 2018 and the Frenchman has since gone on to establish himself as one of the best centre-backs in the world.
To put things into perspective, Unai Nunez looks like an excellent young defender in the same mould as Laporte and Man City can land themselves a massive bargain if they manage to beat off competition to sign the Spaniard in January.
While Laporte has proven himself to be worth every penny of City’s staggering outlay in the market, Nunez only has a modest buyout clause of £25.7million in his existing deal at Bilbao that runs until 2023, meaning that the Basque outfit will be powerless to prevent him from leaving the club should the Citizens match that figure.
Having stamped their authority in English football with a domestic treble last season, City’s hopes of retaining the Premier League crown for a third successive season looks all but over, with Liverpool already 11 points clear of Guardiola’s side ahead of a trip to second-placed Leicester City on Boxing Day.
Man City went into the ongoing campaign a bit light in their options at the back after Guardiola failed to replace Vincent Kompany in the summer.
The long-term injury to Laporte just four games into the season has, indeed, had a massive negative impact on their title defense, with Guardiola now forced to rely on Nicolas Otamendi and Fernandinho at the heart of the backline.
With John Stones also going through his fair share of injury problems and Otamendi struggling to live up to the expectations, it is an absolute no-brainer for City to splash the cash on a new centre-back when the transfer window reopens in January.
To that end, Unai Nunez certainly fits the bill as a player in the right age bracket. Guardiola has moulded Laporte into a world-class asset and he can do the same with Nunez, who still has plenty of room for development at the age of 22.
Looking back at his numbers from the 2017-18 season, Nunez managed a pass success rate of 82.3%, including 5.2 long balls, 2.2 tackles, 2 interceptions, 4.6 clearances and 2.2 aerial duels per game in the La Liga, figures which speak volumes of his well-rounded attributes as a modern-day ball-playing centre-back.
Those qualities should make him a perfect fit for Guardiola’s system of playing out from the back. Nunez seems to have all the raw materials to make the transition to the Premier League in the future.
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Having said that, Man City completing a move for Unai Nunez in January could go a long way towards helping them unearth another gem like Aymeric Laporte.