Despite Manchester City's stellar forward line of Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sane and the rest, Vincent Kompany could emerge as possibly the most important player to Pep Guardiola this season.
The City boss has decided not to spend heavily on a new front-line central defender and is set to make the Belgium captain the cornerstone of his new-look back four. It's a gamble given the 31-year-old's recent injury record, but could pay out huge dividends if Kompany can hold things together.
Guardiola's decision comes after Kompany grabbed his opportunity at the end of last season to showcase his undoubted quality and, more importantly, his desire and ability to remain a part of the manager's plans.
Kompany has been dogged by persistent injury problems for the past two seasons, missing 80 of City's 115 games with a variety of setbacks. But he has never wavered in his passion to fight for his Etihad Stadium career. When he got the chance to have a run in the first team, he showed why he has regarded as one of the Premier League's defenders of the decade and arguably the best still at the club.
He played in the final seven Premier League games of the season, of which City won five, drew two, conceded just four times and, crucially, secured a third-place finish and automatic qualification for the Champions League group stage. He displayed the leadership and experience that had been missing from City's leaky defence and which was one of the major reasons why they had failed to maintain a significant challenge for silverware.
City's three other options had mixed seasons. Guardiola is a big fan of John Stones and the England defender has huge potential but, at 23, he is still relatively raw for a centre-back and a couple of individual errors had an impact on his confidence.
Meanwhile, Nicolas Otamendi improved as the season progressed but is still partial to making rash challenges and can often be caught out of position. Aleksandar Kolarov performed well, switching from his regular full-back position, but occasionally looked like a 31-year-old rookie in the centre of defence and, in any case, has now moved on to Roma.
But none of those three had the leadership qualities to marshall the defence when it came under significant pressure. In December, City dominated the opening hour against eventual champions Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium but could only turn it into a one-goal lead. Diego Costa scored with Chelsea's first opportunity on the hour and Antonio Conte's side went on to win 3-1. It was a similar story a month later when Tottenham Hotspur came to Manchester; City drew 2-2 after squandering a two-goal lead.
The manner of City's exit from Europe also reflects badly on the defence -- they scored six times but were still dumped out on away goals. It was a thrilling two legs against Ligue 1 winners Monaco, but after City had wrestled back the overall lead with just 20 minutes remaining in the second leg, they held out for only six minutes before relinquishing the advantage.
City were desperate for a reassuring presence at the back and Guardiola looked at bringing in Juventus' Leonardo Bonucci before his move to Milan, as well as Southampton's Virgil van Dijk. But, in Kompany, a calm and intelligent leader is already in the squad.
Guardiola looks ready to make him his permanent deputy on the pitch, a crucial decision in a season when the defence faces a major upheaval. All four full-backs have left and new faces Danilo and the soon-to-be signed Benjamin Mendy are novices to the Premier League, as is £34.7m goalkeeper Ederson Moraes.
Kompany's role will be as a calming influence and to help the newcomers establish themselves If it works, it could be the season they get that solid base in a young squad that Guardiola hopes can challenge for every trophy. After missing much of last season, the captain could be like a new signing to Guardiola and, potentially, his most important.