With two games against Liverpool and two games against Atletico Madrid in the space of 12 days Aymeric Laporte knows Manchester City’s season will be on the line after the international break, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
‘It’s a nice challenge, but more than that, it’s an opportunity,’ he says at Spain’s training camp just outside Madrid. ‘We look at it as the chance to show that we are better than these other teams.’
There is no false modesty to Laporte. When he is asked if there is anything Liverpool have that he wished City possessed, or vice-versa, he begins: ‘I think the football that we play, no-one else plays it in the world. We make mistakes too, like everyone. I think they would like even a part of our game.’
The title race has tightened considerably over the last few weeks and now the league game against Liverpool, comes between two meetings with Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid, and before the FA Cup semi-final, again against Liverpool.
The 27-year-old centre-back dubbed the ‘boss of Spain’s defence’ this week by Spanish media, is also a staunch defender of the philosophy Pep Guardiola has installed at City, one he is says will not waver during this crucial run.
‘We have a phrase in Spain for it: un par de huevos (a pair of balls),’ he says. ‘We have that about us, to not be afraid of making a mistake.
‘You expose yourself but that’s what the coach asks of us and it hasn’t exactly gone badly for us, has it?
The risk-taking that he talks about can fall disproportionately on the defenders.
His errors led to a Crystal Palace goal and then his own red card in a defeat last October but that was a blip in a campaign where he has already made 10 more league starts than last season.
In a 1-0 win away at Everton in February he played 110/110 accurate passes to set a new Premier League record. He has risen to the challenge of playing for Guardiola who asks so much of defenders in possession.
‘We have more and more responsibility at the back in terms of the way we develop our moves,’ he says.
‘It’s true that the odds are more against you than for you, because if you make a mistake in that area of the pitch then it can cost you a goal. But every coach has a different idea.
‘That’s what Pep asks from us, to take the risk, and I’m delighted because I like taking risks. I like being brave. People start to talk, but that’s what’s asked of us. I like to dare.’
If it’s the coach asking for the risks to be taken then surely he’ll defend his players if they make mistakes. That seems to be the way both Guardiola and Spain coach Luis Enrique operate.
‘Well, look,’ Laporte says laughing. ‘Yes, in front of the media you have to do that, then inside the dressing room it’s another thing. But seriously, both of them look after us and they are well aware of the risk that there is in football.’
It’s in praise of Luis Enrique and his forthright press conferences that Laporte says: ‘footballers almost never tell the truth these days’.
He qualifies it saying: ‘You have to say what people want to hear and then at least you won’t create problems for yourself. It’s sad but that is the way it is.’
But he is nothing like the modern on-message footballer he describes. There is an edge to all his opinions.
‘These last few weeks I have heard things from ex-players that I can’t explain how they can answer like this. I’m not sure if it’s the pressure to be the focus of attention that means you have to come out with nonsense,’ he says of some pundits.
And of criticism from the public, he adds: ‘A lot of people have played Fifa [on PlayStation] and they think that footballers should be like the players on that.
‘The pass always goes by itself to the right player, and the ball moves slowly. Until you have been out there on the pitch you don’t realise how quickly it really goes.’
What seems to most rile him, though, is his sense that with Manchester City there is now a desire to see them fail.
‘It’s something you notice a lot. They don’t think it’s normal that we always win [something].
‘Because if I’m not mistaken we have won 11 trophies in four years and that can annoy some people, like our neighbours who haven’t won anything.’
It’s actually 10 since the 2017-18 season. He’s right that the other half of Manchester has won nothing in that time.
‘They have a lot of supporters and they have a lot of people behind them. We are in the same city. And they’ve spent a lot of money too. That can upset some people.
‘But everyone defends their own interests; I trust in City and I hope we win a lot of trophies this year.’
The trophy that matters most is the Champions League and it was in last season’s final that Guardiola’s team selection, without a holding midfielder, felt like one of those dares that did not pay off.
Laporte rejects the idea, however, that City paid the price for a lack of pragmatism.
‘We have a well-thought out strategy. The analysts and the coach work on it for a long time and a long way ahead of the game.
‘They give us the strategy to be able to play the game. Then, it can work out well or badly. In the last four years there have been loads of semi-finals and finals and many of them we have won and some others we have lost. That’s football.’
The Champions League draw has given them a tough opponent but Laporte is unfazed. ‘We don’t have to be afraid of anyone because we have the players to be able to compete with any team in the world,’ he says.
And the other half of his answer to that opening question about something Liverpool have that maybe City could do with: ‘Taking chances and benefiting from opponents’ errors a little more, because often we have the opportunity and don’t take it,’ he says.
‘We let the other team off. But there’s nothing to be envious about.’