October 15, 2019, 12:37

Will Aymeric Laporte injury cost Manchester City dear? Why Pep Guardiola’s gamble could backfire

Will Aymeric Laporte injury cost Manchester City dear? Why Pep Guardiola’s gamble could backfire

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.

4:44 Pep Guardiola says he knows what Manchester City are capable of and insists they will recover from their 3-2 defeat at Norwich quickly

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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