John Stones injured: What does Pep Guardiola do now amid Manchester City defensive crisis?
Vincent Kompany's summer departure has been compounded by injuries to Aymeric Laporte and John Stones. So can Manchester City still mount a case for their defence as they seek to defend their Premier League crown?
Last Updated: 18/09/19 11:11pm
Manchester City's defensive woes were exposed like never before at Norwich on Saturday. But just when it looked like things could not get worse for the champions, injury was added to insult with the news John Stones could face up to six weeks on the sidelines with a muscular strain.
Is this the biggest challenge of Pep Guardiola's tenure at City?
Vincent Kompany's departure in the summer was already a sizeable obstacle for City to overcome in isolation. But the loss of Stones on top of Aymeric Laporte's six-month injury lay-off has presented the Manchester City boss with a defensive crisis that needs solving fast.
- Stones injured and out for five weeks
- MNF: Centre-backs will cost City the title
- Find out more about Sky Sports
With City already five points adrift of Liverpool in the title race, what are the options at Guardiola's disposal as he looks to avoid losing further ground to the side that ran them so close last season?
Who can Man City call on now?
Manchester City's injury list makes for grim reading - and it is growing.
Laporte's knee ligament injury has ruled him out of action until at least February and now Stones has joined him on the treatment table until the end of October.
It means City have just six regular first-team defenders fit - Kyle Walker, Nicolas Otamendi, Benjamin Mendy, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Joao Cancelo and Angelino - and only one of them is a recognised centre-back.
Tosin Adarabioyo and Philippe Sandler, who are on loan at Blackburn and Anderlecht respectively, represent more experienced options than young defenders Eric Garcia and Taylor Harwood-Bellis, but the return of either would surely be just a temporary measure when Guardiola requires a long-term solution.
January's transfer window will present another set of options, but it could be a long three months before the winter window opens. Are City now regretting not spending big on Harry Maguire this summer? £80m would be a cheap solution for a potential crisis of this size.
Garcia and Harwood-Bellis Factfiles
|Name||Eric Garcia||Taylor Harwood-Bellis|
|Joined||Barcelona, July 2017||Academy product, July 2019|
|Senior debut||December 2018||n/a|
Fernandinho further back?
If you polled Manchester City supporters for their opinion on which route Guardiola should take, there is a strong chance dropping Fernandinho into the heart of defence would come out on top.
The Brazilian's attributes tick so many boxes and make him the standout candidate to fill the void; from his robust defensive displays to his ability on the ball, both of which could initiate attacks from the back.
Whether Fernandinho gets the nod remains to be seen, but Guardiola certainly thinks he is capable. "He is a holding midfielder, everyone knows it, me included but I think he has the conditions to play in that position," the City boss said. "He is intelligent, fast, strong in the headers and in the build-up. He also has the quality to see what happens in front. He can play in both positions."
Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher also believes Fernandinho represents the perfect solution for Guardiola, who could stick with his trusted 4-3-3 formation that has delivered so much success in England.
"You have got to look at Fernandinho going back to centre-back," Carragher told Monday Night Football. "I think that is something that he will look at. You don't want to go away from that 4-3-3 because it is a machine. I don't think they should rip that up."
Toure, Mascherano template?
If any manager in world football can oversee Fernandinho's shift back into the Manchester City defence, it is Guardiola.
The Spaniard's name is synonymous with the possession-heavy footballing philosophy that has taken Europe by storm over the past decade, but he also knows a thing or two about turning midfielders into defenders.
It is a knack that Guardiola mastered as a player and one which has served him well as a manager - just ask Manchester United fans.
With Dani Alves injured and Eric Abidal suspended, United fans licked their lips in anticipation when Yaya Toure was named at centre-back in the 2009 Champions League final. Barcelona won 2-0.
Javier Mascherano struggled for game time when he initially moved to the Nou Camp from Liverpool in 2010, but he and Barcelona had their hands on the Champions League at the end of his first season - but only after Guardiola had deployed him at centre-back alongside Gerard Pique.
Again, it was Manchester United on the receiving end of a Guardiola masterclass, as they were played off the park at Wembley two years on from Rome.
City have seen their arch rivals fall to Guardiola's genius, now in their time of need they need him to do the same for them.
What about Kyle Walker?
City may need to be versatile to navigate their way through this crisis, and they do not come much more versatile than Walker.
After all, the 29-year-old made it all the way to the World Cup semi-finals with England in 2018 playing in an unfamiliar role on the right of a three-man defence.
Guardiola did not take too kindly to the idea of shifting to a back three and deploying Walker in a similar position in the blue of City, but the latest flurry of injuries means it is an option he has to consider.
Interestingly, Walker's thoughts on such a positional change might be mixed. Having been overlooked in his preferred right-back position in Gareth Southgate's latest England squad, shifting into a role which his international manager has tried him in and moved on from may hamper his chances of winning his spot back.
Are City really still favourites?
Remarkably, Manchester City remain favourites to retain the Premier League title for the second season running, but even the most ardent City fan, and probably Guardiola, would admit a third straight triumph would be their toughest yet.
With five games played, Liverpool already hold a five-point advantage over the champions and, while they have injuries of their own to contend with, they pale into insignificance next to the crisis concentrated on City's defence.
But there is a long way to go until the medals are handed out in May and Guardiola should never be under-estimated.
Perhaps ominously for his team's rivals, the City boss sounds more galvanised than ever.
"For me as a manager it is an incredible challenge," the City boss said. "I believe in something people don't know about - spirit and commitment. We will make steps forward to solve this problem."
The case for the defence starts here.