How Kyle Walker became one of the world’s best right-backs at Man City

Who doesn’t love a lazy Sunday?

Being away on international duty with England probably denied Kyle Walker the pleasure of sticking a roast on and surrounding himself with the weekend papers, but the Manchester City defender had certainly earned the right to put his feet up.

After sitting out City’s opening Premier League defeat at Tottenham Hotspur, Walker returned for back-to-back 5-0 wins over Norwich City and Arsenal before another imperious showing helped England thrash Hungary 4-0.

Right-back is a stacked position for England and the three other contenders – Trent Alexander-Arnold, Reece James and Kieran Trippier – had to make do with pressing their claims in a routine weekend win over minnows Andorra in World Cup qualifying.

Alexander-Arnold and James each tried their hand in central midfield with mixed results, while Trippier lined up at left-back. There seems little double Walker will return as Gareth Southgate’s number one pick for Wednesday’s crunch trip to Poland.

The 31-year-old’s pre-eminent status has been hard-earned, answering naysayers emphatically ever since his £50million switch to City from Spurs in 2017.

Standout showing at Stamford Bridge

Walker’s price tag caused both furrowed brows and mockery as Pep Guardiola overhauled a squad that finished 2016/17 without a trophy.

The City boss’ logic of adding increased pace and presence to a team that sometimes looked lightweight in the face of Premier League demands seemed sound enough.

Walker and his new teammates impressed during the opening weeks and were joint-top when they headed to London to take on reigning champions Chelsea at the end of September.

Kevin De Bruyne’s fabulous strike secured a 1-0 win – a margin that flattered Antonio Conte’s hosts – but Walker’s quiet efficiency and adaptability were key features of the performance.

City’s 1-0 win over Chelsea in 2017 was a watershed moment for Walker

In a display that was already almost unrecognisable from his Tottenham output, Walker tucked in to form a back three with John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi in possession as Fabian Delph advanced into midfield from left-back.

The Yorkshireman’s 91.9% pass accuracy was his third-highest in any game for City that season, as per FBref, while he completed his second-most medium (15-30 metres) or long-range (30 or more metres) passes of the campaign – showing an aptitude for advancing play from deep.

That Stamford Bridge showing now feels like the first time we viewed the full complement of Walker’s qualities, but this did not come without complications.

In and out for club and country

Southgate hit upon a 3-5-2 strategy for Russia 2018 and the attributes Walker displayed as he flourished under Guardiola saw him earmarked as the ideal right-sided central defender.

Despite conceding a penalty during the opening win over Tunisia, Walker excelled at the World Cup as England reached their first semi-final for 28 years.

Kyle Walker is an integral part of England’s starting XI

However, this versatility then seemed to place him at a disadvantage. Southgate switched to a back four for the subsequent Nations League campaign and Walker slipped down the pecking order. In a development that would have been unimaginable during his Tottenham days, the City man was not seen to be a sufficient threat in attack.

After a year out of the international setup, he was sent off on his return against Iceland, while Guardiola’s trust has had to be regularly maintained.

In the middle of the 2018/19 season, for a run of games around the turn of the year that included the seismic 2-1 win over Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium, Danilo was preferred as the Englishman’s form deserted him.

A more sustained threat to his status at City came last season when Joao Cancelo roved so thrillingly in his hybrid full-back/attacking-midfield role.

Parisian masterpiece

Walker has enjoyed a glittering career at City

This brings us to another of Walker’s biggest attributes – a dogged and relentless determination that punctuates his every performance. It can sometimes result in missteps and penalty concessions, but Guardiola would hate to be without his right-back’s warrior qualities.

In both 2018/19 and 2020/21, Walker battled back to be first choice and lifting trophies come May. He has been integral to eight major honours won during his time in Manchester.

The Champions League remained tantalisingly out of reach last term, but Walker’s performances as City downed Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain in the quarter and semi-finals were exquisite – his shackling of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar alongside Ruben Dias, John Stones and Oleksandr Zinchenko truly masterful.

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In a 2-0 home win that drove PSG’s stars to distraction, Walker’s combined tackles and interceptions (seven) and blocks (three) were his best returns of the season on those metrics. His defensive Sheffield steel was just part of a complete display.

It helped to settle the argument over who should be England’s first-choice, at least in Southgate’s eyes, and so it remains.

At 31, Walker has never felt quite so important for club and country. He is scaling new heights, contracted to City until June 2024 and not ready to leave the summit of the game any time soon.

He should certainly make the most of rare lazy Sundays whenever they come around.

Do you think Kyle Walker is playing the best football of his career? Follow our City Fan Brands Editor Dom Farrell on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts in the comments section below.