The scale of Manchester City's defensive woes were laid bare as Norwich stunned them at Carrow Road - and with few other options at his disposal, it could cost Pep Guardiola dear in the title race.
John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi had nightmare games in the 3-2 defeat, but Guardiola has already made his own bed by deciding against replacing Vincent Kompany in the summer, and with Aymeric Laporte injured long-term, now looks stuck with a partnership he has never favoured - until the January transfer window at least.
Pep has long done his best to steer clear of pairing the two together. For a man who loves to rotate, Guardiola started them together only three times in the whole of last season. They do not look a title-winning combination, especially against a Liverpool side in this kind of mood. "Maybe we will think about [another defender] in December, maybe," he said on Friday, ahead of the Norwich game. That maybe is fast becoming a definitely.
Even if Liverpool lose five points between now and January 1, which is far from guaranteed (they've only dropped six in their last 19 games), City would have to win every game to even draw level. They looked a million miles away from that against Norwich.
Guardiola's men would have half a season to get themselves back on track, of course, but when they came back from the brink last season it wasn't against a Liverpool side on a 14-game winning streak.
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Against Norwich, the cumbersome duo of Stones and Otamendi were uncomfortable in possession and uncertain out of it, the antithesis of the Guardiola defence we have become accustomed to, and that nervousness appeared to spread across the rest of their back line too.
'Norwich must be perfect' was the message before the game. No need though when, for Norwich's second, Stones tried and failed to play Teemu Pukki offside, allowing him a clear run on goal before squaring for Cantwell to tap in.
Neither when, for their third, Stones' unhelpful pass across his own box found Otamendi, seemingly unaware he would be closed down by Emi Buendia, robbed of the ball and a simple finish set up for Pukki to poke home.
"That second goal shows how much they're going to miss Aymeric Laporte," Jamie Redknapp told Saturday Night Football. "He is vital to this team and the chemistry between the two centre-backs, John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi, isn't there.
"They were all over the place for the second goal and that summed up their whole performance. With Laporte, they seem to have that stability. It's obvious to everybody that Stones and Otamendi don't look like a real partnership."
Guardiola remained typically defiant. "I'm not worried," he told Sky Sports after full time. He's not going to throw either defender under the bus, especially when he needs them more than he would like, but how City see out the next three months will be a major concern for their manager whose actions have often spoken louder than his words.
We've seen these lapses in concentration from Stones and Otamendi before, especially in Guardiola's debut season in English football. With them together, City would swing for polished one moment and shambolic the next with consummate regularity. They did improve with another summer under his wing, but Pep still felt the £57m addition of Laporte was necessary in January 2018, and has only trusted them to start together in eight league games in the 20 months since.
But now it's back to square one. Laporte injured, Kompany gone, and Harry Maguire, who Guardiola admitted he had courted in the summer, playing his football down the road.
"We couldn't afford him," was the official line from the Etihad when Maguire joined Manchester United for £80m, shortly after City had signed Rodri from Atletico Madrid for £62m. Had they been overly worried about replacing Kompany, they might have held their horses.
Why City prioritised a Fernandinho replacement over a centre-back, a position where they were dangerously short on numbers, isn't certain. But Pep has made his feelings about the current pairing so clear that either his hands genuinely were tied, or the club is happy to rely on 34-year-old Fernandinho to slot in again, despite the fact he hasn't started back-to-back league games since February. Even Kyle Walker, who had a mixed time at centre-back in a back three during last year's World Cup, has been mooted.
"We didn't expect the injury and in more than three years together John and Nicolas have played together, and thanks to them we've won," added Guardiola in his post-match interview.
"Laporte is injured and Kompany is now in Anderlecht, and so we cannot just analyse it off one game. We need to improve on that and hopefully we can do better."
He's right of course. It is only one game. But if it comes down to whether City were willing to risk spending big money on another defender, or risk losing their Premier League crown if injury struck, then they may already be wishing they made a different choice.
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