Vincent Kompany reveals how he coped against Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Ibrahimovic
The Belgium international has established himself as one of the best defenders in the world during his 10-year stint at the Etihad Stadium, having come through battles with modern-day striking greats relatively unscathed in that time.
In extracts from a new book – FOOTBALL 2.0 – Kompany, 32, lifts the lid on the art of defending and discusses what it is like to come up against the likes of Messi and Ibrahimovic.
The City star revealed he will study his upcoming opponents by watching videos of them to ensure he is fully prepared, but also now relies on his vast experience to adapt and make sound in-game decisions.
He said: ‘The game is evolving massively on the video-analysis side, so we’ve got virtually everything at our disposal. I’ll watch the 15-minute clip about the opposition and I’ll focus on what those players are used to doing.
‘You already know, for example, that Peter Crouch likes going back post so he can flick it back for a smaller striker who comes in and creates the danger. He used to do that with Jermain Defoe. I’m not saying you can always handle it but, if you know it, you have an advantage.’
However, preparing to handle Messi is an entirely different proposition to Crouch. Kompany came up against the Argentinian forward on two occasions when City and Barcelona clashed in the Champions League group stage back in 2016.
During City’s 3-1 win at the Etihad, Kompany found himself in an unenvious position of being the only person between Messi and goalkeeper Joe Hart.
The Barcelona forward was bearing down on him after leaving Fernandinho in his wake, but the 32-year-old kept his composure and instead of retreating he pressed and took the ball cleanly away from Messi.
‘But that’s a good intervention. In that situation, you take it if you need to. Although, it is one thing difficult to teach. You stick your leg out at the right time and I’ve been doing it since I was a kid.
‘I love defending and I’m passionate about it. I hate getting beat one-on-one, even in training. Most of my injuries in training were because of that, because I cannot get beaten.’
Having mastered the art of defending over his 15-year career, Kompany is appropriately placed to dish out tips to any aspiring youngsters. Looking back at a clip from a game against Chelsea, Kompany highlights how important positioning is after Diego Costa had dragged him out wide.
The City man looked to have been beaten but managed to use his strength to out-muscle the Spanish striker and dispossess him. Kompany said: ‘If you go out of position, you need to take something. It is actually a good move from Costa but on that occasion I was stronger. We made something look good that was actually a horrendous situation.’
Had Ibrahimovic been in place of Costa at that moment, Kompany is unsure if the outcome would have been the same. He has faced the veteran Swedish striker on several occasions and says you cannot lose your concentration or he will make you pay.
Kompany said: ‘If you play against Zlatan, you know that he will make something happen. You have to be extremely careful because he can seem like he’s not in the game, then he’s the one who scores. When you play against someone like (Marcus) Rashford, you know he’s extremely confident.
‘He’ll attack you and keep attacking you and he won’t be fazed by anything. So they’re different challenges, but I do believe that, with preparation, you can be a match for them.’
Despite having the job of trying to thwart Messi, Costa and Ibrahimovic, Kompany believes Barcelona striker Suarez has been one of his toughest opponents. He has enjoyed many battles with the Uruguayan hotshot and reflected on a clip of his side’s 3-2 defeat at Liverpool in April 2014.
The Belgian said: ‘Playing against Suarez has always been an interesting battle for me. I’ve loved many of them and suffered in some as well. Players like Suarez take it as far as they can. Of course, he’s technically gifted, he’s got a nose for goals and he’s got strength, which people don’t often know about.
‘But he’ll play on the edge every single game and he’ll try to catch you off guard. When you’re on the ball and facing your own goal, he’s always looking for your blind side and it’s really difficult to turn, not knowing where he is.
‘He’s an aggressive striker who is going to try to nick the ball off you. You can literally see in his eyes that he’s looking for you to lose a moment of attention, to make use of that.
Kompany also named Rashford and Anthony Martial in that category because of the threat they pose in behind. He did however manage to keep United’s jet-heeled duo quiet in a goalless derby at the Etihad in April 2017, despite just returning from injury.
He said: ‘These type of players are the most difficult to play against, when you have a high line against extremely fast strikers. Martial and Rashford are definitely in that category.
‘You really have to be careful, because from the moment you are exposed, they’re going all the way and that can hurt. No one has enough pace to catch someone like Rashford when he has a head start on you, so it’s all about anticipating what could happen.
‘You know that he’s looking to make a run in your back. So with a little bit of experience, you either physically block him — so he cannot even turn — or you make sure you have enough support before you intervene. Everything’s a challenge, right?’