Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Stones injury gives Guardiola a major defensive headache

David Nugent in Editorial, UEFA Champions League 18 Sep 2019

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Last Saturday evening, Manchester City were truly awful in defence, as they suffered a 3-2 defeat by Norwich. The home side deserves major credit for the win, but the Citizens were defensive frailties were easily exposed.

The absence of Aymeric Laporte has had a big effect. Things have now got worse for Pep Guardiola’s side ahead of Wednesday nights trip to Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League.

On Tuesday, the news broke that England centre-back John Stones will be sidelined for around six weeks due to muscular strain. That leaves Nicolas Otamendi as the teams only fit senior centre-back. It is far from ideal for the Citizens, who are 10/3 favourites to win the Champions League this season.

Limited options at centre-back

The failure to add another centre-back to their squad now looks to have come back and bitten City in the backside. The loss of veteran Belgian centre-back Vincent Kompany in the summer now looks huge.

Guardiola now has no choice but to depend on Otamendi as his starting centre-back. The fact he played so few games last season suggests that the City boss now lacks faith in the Argentine. He is City’s last hope when it comes to senior centre-backs.

The only other centre-backs at the club are teenagers Eric Garcia and Taylor Harwood-Bellis. To depend on such young players would be asking a lot, especially as City.

A switch back to three at the back

The Citizens do have other players that have filled at centre-back in the past in Brazilian defensive midfielder Fernandinho and full-back, Kyle Walker. In fact, the latter has played quite a bit of football as a centre-back in the last few seasons.

However, when Walker has played as a centre-back, it has been a three-man central defence. Maybe a switch from a two-man central defence to three would give City more solidity.

The system has been a favourite of Guardiola’s in the past. The Catalan boss is not averse to changing his systems and formations. In fact, he has come up with some rather unusual ones in the past, which have not always come off.

However, this is Pep Guardiola we are talking about. He is one of the best coaches in the history of modern football. If anybody can come up with a solution to the current defensive crisis it is him.

The injury to Stones may actually be a blessing in disguise as if Saturday’s display against Norwich is anything to go by, Stones and Otamendi no longer worked as a partnership. The experience of Fernandinho and the pace of Walker may just make up for Otamendi’s weaknesses, which the Canaries laid bare.

Shakhtar a difficult test

It will be interesting to see what Guardiola comes up with for the trip to Ukraine. The men from Manchester have faced the home side in three consecutive years. City comfortably defeated Shakhtar twice in the group stages of the competition last season.

However, Shakhtar recorded a 2-1 home win back in season 2017/18, to spoil City’s perfect record in the group stage that season. Current Everton winger Bernard was one of the scorers in the victory.

This is the sort of game that any realistic contender for the trophy should win. We all know football is not as simple as that though. Manchester City will likely open their campaign with a win, but those defensive issues will no doubt not help their cause.

There is talk of a crisis at Manchester City, which is crazy considering the Citizens are still the favourites to win both the Premier League and this competition. Anything other than a win in Ukraine will only add to the notion that City have major problems.

Will Pep Guardiola find a successful solution to City’s defensive problems?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Nugent


David is a freelance football writer with nearly a decade of experience writing about the beautiful game. The experienced writer has written for over a dozen websites and also an international soccer magazine offline.
Arguably his best work has come as an editorial writer for Soccernews, sharing his good, bad and ugly opinions on the world’s favourite sport. During David’s writing career he has written editorials, betting previews, match previews, banter, news and opinion pieces.

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