Pep Guardiola says Aymeric Laporte is the “best left-sided central defender in the world” after he returned from injury to help Manchester City beat Sheffield United.
The 25-year-old was making his first start for 143 days after suffering a knee injury in August.
The Frenchman impressed and played 78 minutes in the Blues’ 1-0 win.
“We missed him a lot – in terms of the fast pace, headers, build-up, he is an exceptional player,” said Guardiola.
“He is back, it was maybe a risk. The doctors said he was fit and the sooner we can give him minutes, the quicker he will get his physical condition. He now has five days before the next game to recover his physical condition.”
Without him, Guardiola’s side have been forced to field makeshift defences with midfielders Fernandinho and Rodri often deputising, meaning Laporte’s return to fitness is a timely boost for second-placed City.
Since joining the club for a reported £58m in January 2018, Laporte has won two league titles and City had seven points from an available nine before his injury.
But, during his spell on the sidelines, they have lost five games and slipped 13 points behind table-topping Liverpool.
Former Manchester United and Aston Villa striker Dion Dublin believed City looked “more comfortable” with Laporte back at the heart of their defence.
Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live, he said: “The players around him seemed more comfortable, they seemed more balanced. He just slots in really nicely, next to [Oleksandr] Zinchenko, who was bombing down the left wing.
“City seemed to be happy to have him back, they seemed to lean on him to organise that back three, and five when they were out of possession.
“It’s good to see him back, I like to see players recover from injuries and hopefully we’ll see him get a run of games.”
Could Ederson solve Man City’s penalty problems?
In the first half, Gabriel Jesus saw a penalty saved by Dean Henderson, meaning the Brazil striker has now missed three of his last five Premier League penalties.
Since Guardiola joined the club in 2016, the Blues have scored 19 of their 26 spot-kicks in the Premier League.
However, they have missed their last two with Raheem Sterling having his initial effort and retaken effort, after a VAR review, saved at Wolves in December, with Guardiola admitting it is something he will have to “reflect on”.
“I always give confidence to the players to take it but maybe I have to take the decision which guy is going to take it,” the Spaniard said. “Not for Gabriel today because Sergio and Raheem have missed too – but we are not safe.
“In the knockout stages, it’s so important because these kind of details make the difference most of the time. We have to reflect on it. I have to make the decision [on] the guy who will take the penalty.”
When pressed, the 49-year-old confirmed he had somebody in mind, before joking that goalkeeper Ederson may be next in line.
“Ederson is the best!” Guardiola laughed.
“Believe me, he’s the best taker we have in penalties. Eddy has no blood in his veins, he’s so calm so he could do it.”