Who will play the Man City centre-back? Six solutions to Pep Guardiola’s injury crisis as Premier League title race takes a turn
ETIHAD STADIUM, MANCHESTER – Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola hailed “the perfect afternoon” after his side beat Newcastle 5-0 to take a three-point lead over Liverpool at the top of the Premier League.
But if that sounds like a decisive move in the title race with three games to go, Guardiola then unveiled the extent of a defensive crisis that gives Jurgen Klopp and his players reason to keep believing after their mistake 1 -1 against Tottenham on Saturday.
“[There are] big problems behind because we only have three defenders for these three games but we will do it,” he said after Ruben Dias (hamstring) was substituted at half-time at the Etihad Stadium . The City boss has confirmed his side have seen Portugal’s last centre-back this season, and John Stones (thigh) and Kyle Walker (ankle) have also finished.
“Kyle and John is the end of the season, Ruben the end of the season. Next pre-season maybe they will be ready,” Guardiola said.
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“We have 13 [outfield] players and a half available for these three games, plus the academy. When this happens, everyone needs to do more, otherwise it won’t be enough – more and more to help with the absences and issues we have.
In this situation, it is not a problem. If Rodri has to play in this position, it’s not a problem, or if it’s someone from the academy. pic.twitter.com/bMR47RcCOM
— Manchester City (@ManCity) May 8, 2022
As a precaution, Aymeric Laporte made way for CJ Egan-Riley to make his Premier League debut in the final minutes against Newcastle and this may not be the last time we see the graduate youth team ahead of the end of the season.
Alongside Laporte, full-backs Joao Cancelo and Oleksandr Zinchenko make up the trio of in-form senior defenders Guardiola has at his disposal. So how could he solve his dilemma as a centre-back as we reach the climax of the season?
Right here, Sports News outlines Guardiola’s options ahead of Wednesday’s trip to Wolves.
There was some bewilderment in the stands and across the press box to see Dutch international Ake watching as an unused substitute on Egan-Riley’s unexpected debut. After an injury-ruined first season at City, the 27-year-old has impressed this time around across 26 appearances in all competitions.
However, after revealing the Walker, Dias and Stones news, Guardiola explained that Ake’s place on the bench was strictly an emergency measure as the left-footed defender failed to shake off the ankle problem that he had. he made it worse in a goal kick at Leeds last weekend.
“I don’t think Nathan for Wolves but maybe next,” Guardiola added, meaning next Sunday’s trip to West Ham is a theoretical return date.
It was initially surprising to see Ake stay in the dugout at the start of the second half when Fernandinho replaced Dias. Now 37, the former Brazil international will leave City at the end of the season but showed his enduring value with a brilliant clearance to deny Callum Wilson on the end of an Allan Saint-Maximin cross.
City’s failure to find a replacement for Vincent Kompany, a long-term knee injury for Laporte and form and fitness issues for Stones and Nicolas Otamendi meant Fernandinho played out much of the 2019/20 campaign at the heart of the defence. It was fair to assume those days were over, but circumstances mean he is now favorite to start alongside Laporte at Molineux.
Fernandinho performed well when called up against Newcastle, flying to make headed clearances and proving his composure in possession.
“Honestly, in this situation, it’s not a problem. If Rodri has to play in this position, he will play,” Guardiola continued, going through his threadbare options. Rodri has already done the job a few times and his aerial prowess – demonstrated once again with City’s third goal against Newcastle – make him well suited, more so than his mobility.
The problem with that is that someone should replace Rodri in defensive midfield, where he has been one of City’s standout players this season and established himself as one of the best operators up front. a four-man defender in Europe. Ultimately, you’d rather the Spain international protect a makeshift defense than be part of it.
RODRIGO 💬 We showed the personality we have. It was amazing for us.
Football is like that, you have to wake up. We have to stay focused on the Premier League.
Now we are three points ahead, but we are still in the fight. pic.twitter.com/8VeG4KHHgn
— Manchester City (@ManCity) May 8, 2022
Egan-Riley had a few attacks from Newcastle to help quell it and the 19-year-old will surely be happy to tell anyone listening that it was just 3-0 down when he arrived. He was a transformative presence on his Manchester City league debut!
Comfortable at centre-back or right-back, Egan-Riley made his senior bow in the latter position against Wycombe Wanderers in the Carabao Cup earlier this season. He also started at the back as City entertained Sporting CP in the Champions League round of 16, bolstered by a 5-0 first-leg lead. The pressure at Molineux and the London Stadium will certainly be a few degrees higher.
Premier League debut and victory! Gotta keep pushing 😁💙 pic.twitter.com/0xvFC3aa5h
— CJ Egan Riley (@CJEganRiley) May 8, 2022
Guardiola burst out laughing when asked how important Fernandinho will be for the rest of the season. “Well, I would say a lot, otherwise I have to play CJ or Luke Mbete,” he said. Mbete was also on the bench at the weekend and has featured in first-team squads for the past 18 months.
So it was perhaps a surprising touch to see Egan-Riley favored over the sleek and powerful 18-year-old. It could come down to the simple fact that he is left-footed – much like Laporte always fit. Ake is also on the left side – while the right side of defense is where the options are decimated. Moreover, while there was a feeling of testimonial against Sporting at times, Mbete is behind Egan-Riley when it comes to competitive minutes at elite level.
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Burns lined up a teenage back four in the 6-1 win over Wycombe, alongside Egan-Riley, Mbete and left-back Josh Wilson-Esbrand. Instead of bolstering Guardiola’s first team, he was loaned out to Swansea in January.
The 18-year-old Londoner has only made three league appearances. With the Championship season now over, he at least returns to Manchester relatively fresh. Burns could conceivably make the bench if Egan-Riley or Mbete leaves.