Man City injury crisis shows Pep Guardiola what his summer transfer wishlist should look like – Alex Brotherton
For not the first time this season, Manchester City are experiencing something of an injury crisis.
Following Sunday’s 5-0 defeat of Newcastle at the Etihad Stadium, a result that put City three points ahead of Liverpool at the top of the Premier League table, Pep Guardiola revealed that defenders Kyle Walker, John Stones and Ruben Dias will all miss the rest of the season through injury.
The absences of Walker and Stones were already expected, but the substitution of Dias at half-time on Sunday, and the subsequent diagnosis, has dealt a fresh blow at a crucial point in the season.
READ MORE: Man City set to avoid summer transfer saga as they close on Erling Haaland deal
With Nathan Ake not fully match-fit, Aymeric Laporte is Guardiola’s only fit centre-back, meaning Fernandinho will start alongside the Spain international for the trip to Wolves on Wednesday. The veteran Brazilian was excellent after replacing Dias on Sunday, but having to rely on a 37-year-old midfielder to play in defence in must-win games is far from ideal.
“In this situation, it’s not a problem, Rodri can play there,” Guardiola offered as a positive spin on the situation. “We have the academy. Everyone has to do extra. Thirteen players and a half [he is counting Ake as half] for these games and everyone has to do more and more to help our absence. We arrive with problems and that’s all. Fernandinho did good and we are going to do it.”
Given the investment in City’s squad over the years and the quality of players at Guardiola’s disposal, few unconnected with City feel any sympathy whatsoever. But contrary to popular belief, while City’s squad is brilliant, it is not actually that deep in terms of numbers.
According to the CIES Football Observatory, between February 2021 and February 2021, West Ham were the only club from Europe’s top five leagues that used fewer players in domestic league games (27) than City (28). By comparison, Liverpool used 33.
Following the departure of Ferran Torres in December, Guardiola only has 17 senior outfield players at his disposal when everyone is fit. With Fernandinho set to leave at the end of the season and the futures of players like Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling and Ilkay Gundogan uncertain, his squad will soon need reinforcements.
In the attacking third of the pitch, the issue appears to have already been addressed thanks to the capture of Julian Alvarez and the imminent signing of Erling Haaland. The attention of Guardiola and sporting director Txiki Begiristain must now turn to midfield and defence.
However, unlike the pursuit of an out-and-out striker, the City’s recent injury struggles have shown that Guardiola could do worse than targeting high-quality players who are versatile and can fill a number of roles.
Of course, it is unusual to lose three central defenders to injury all at the same time, but without Fernandinho Guardiola would be in a sticky situation. He will need to be replaced by a similarly flexible player, one with the experience of the Brazilian and the positional flexibility of the captain, Ake and Oleksandr Zinchenko.
Guardiola has always been a quality over quantity coach. His worst nightmare is having to manage a bloated squad of senior players; he would much rather have more youngsters in his squad who are less likely to kick up a fuss because of a lack of minutes.
Because of this, Pep has always been keen to recruit the footballing equivalents of Swiss Army Knives.
“One of the common misconceptions about Pep’s time as Barca coach was that he planned to duplicate every position in his team, giving him two right-backs, two left-backs, two centre-forwards and so on,” wrote Guardiola’s biographer Marti Perarnau in his book Pep Confidential.
“In fact, he wants footballers who can play in at least two, if not three positions. He is looking for men with the talent and flexibility to play as central defenders, defensive midfielders or central midfielders.”
That approach has allowed City to cope with multiple injury crises over the years, but with at least one of his jack-of-all-trades set to leave, Guardiola and City know what their next transfer priority will be.
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