Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola stresses importance of Vincent Kompany
Pep Guardiola has hailed the commanding return of Vincent Kompany to his Manchester City side - but admitted back-up for the injury-hit captain is necessary.
Kompany was impressive as he made his fifth successive start, and his sixth in seven games, in Saturday's comfortable 5-0 Premier League win over Crystal Palace.
Prior to April, the Belgian had made just six appearances all season, continuing a wretched run that also saw him sit out 37 games, mostly due to injury, last term.
The difference Kompany, one of the most influential players in City's recent history, has made to the back-line has been obvious but question marks remain over his durability.
Guardiola said: "I am pretty sure (former manager) Manuel Pellegrini missed him a lot last season. We missed him a lot.
"He is a real central defender. I have said many times - (of) a central defender, how many duels do you win with the strikers? More than the (opponent), you are a central defender. He wins a lot. No doubt about that.
"But we have to cover our backs a little bit. We cannot give all the confidence he will be fit because of the experience of the last years. We have to have a back-up if something happens."
Guardiola's acknowledgement of Kompany's virtues perhaps marks a shift in his thinking as he has come to terms with the Premier League.
Much was made earlier in the season of Guardiola's desire to play fluent attacking football starting with ball-playing centre-backs such as the currently-injured John Stones.
Errors have undermined City's cause, however, and Guardiola has stated that he does not want to see repeats of some of the poorly-conceded goals next season.
Kompany has brought organisation and strength back to the defence and perhaps helped bring the best out of Nicolas Otamendi. He also made an important attacking contribution against Palace with a fine goal.
Guardiola said: "You have the feeling when an opponent crosses the ball, 'Is Vinny there?'
"That feeling - especially in the league, when there are a lot of long balls and for the referees it has to be a really important thing to make a foul - is important.
"It is important in duels to have people who win the headers. Vincent in that is really good. And on Saturday we discovered maybe he can play as a striker. He made not a bad goal."
Fitness remains the key for Kompany, and Guardiola opted for caution before restoring him to the side.
Guardiola said: "He has made a huge step. When we spoke earlier in the season, Vincent said the first step was don't put pressure. He has to be able to train regularly and play one game.
"Then after that game another one, and then another one. He did it, and 90 minutes. That has not happened since a long time ago."