Surprise role for Fabian Delph epitomised how Guardiola outfoxed Conte

It’s strange how often the perception is so far from the reality in football. The perception of Fabian Delph a few months ago was him being at Manchester City to quite simply make up the numbers on their home-grown quota, the vast majority deeming Aston Villa’s former ball-winner as a too industrious fit for Pep Guardiola’s philosophy.

But in truth, the England international is a solid footballer, one who has made his way into Gareth Southgate’s latest squad, and Guardiola’s realisation of how Delph is wrongly perceived perhaps played a crucial hand in Manchester City’s 1-0 win over Chelsea on Saturday – with the 27-year-old a surprise inclusion in his starting XI, all the more surprisingly at left-back.

Perhaps Delph wouldn’t have received that opportunity without Benjamin Mendy’s season-ending injury but his involvement on Saturday and the way in which Guardiola used the midfielder appeared to catch Antonio Conte off guard. Indeed, Delph performed as an inside full-back on the left, moving into midfield to squeeze out Chelsea’s three-man engine room and give City more control in the middle of the park.

The tactical call worked perfectly as Chelsea’s rare opportunities to break City down all came on the counter-attack, something highlighted in Delph’s statistics. The nine-cap international recorded the most tackles, the most touches and and the joint-most interceptions of any player on the pitch, showing how influential he was on the result, while completing a whopping 92% of his passes.

Delph appeared little more than a spare part at City not long ago and at the age of 27, questions were asked over which direction his career would take. But Saturday’s display proved the 5 foot 8 midfielder can have an important role to play for City this season, especially with Mendy out injured, and that he has a lot to offer one of the top teams in the division.