City defensive crisis a 'challenge' Guardiola is relishing
It is too early in the season to worry about Manchester City, but Pep Guardiola is already dealing with a crisis of sorts after John Stones picked up a thigh injury in training that means they launch their Champions League campaign against Shakhtar Donetsk with only one specialist centre-back.
Stones's form may have been a concern for a manager who made his signing the first priority when he came to England three years ago, although it is nothing compared to the problems a lengthy injury could cause. The England international, who was widely criticised following the defeat by Norwich last weekend, broke down in a training session in Ukraine yesterday. Guardiola - who has also lost Aymeric Laporte until February with a knee injury - fears he will be out for up to five weeks.
That leaves only Nicolas Otamendi available to play, with defensive midfielder Fernandinho set to start alongside him in the centre of defence in Kharkiv and cover provided by academy graduates Eric Garcia and Taylor Harwood-Bellis.
For the richest club in Britain, with a talent pool so deep it has been the envy of most of Europe for the last decade, the prospect of playing until the start of November with one senior centre-back is an unexpected challenge Guardiola is relishing.
"It's a big challenge," said Guardiola. "John went to make a pass in training and there was a problem with a muscle. It will be four or five or six weeks.
"For me as a manager, it is an incredible challenge. I believe a lot in something people don't know [about this team], which is the spirit and commitment and everyone must make a step forward.
"Sometimes these situations happen. It has happened and what we are not going to do is complain.If they are not able [to play], they are not able, so we have to get 11 players out on the pitch and make an extra effort. I like it, to prove myself and show we are able to find a solution for the team, to make an incredible step forward and find a solution to this problem that we have."
Guardiola seems determined to avoid shifting the blame or picking a fight over recruitment, but it will be a huge test for his players to ensure he is not tempted to do so should they suffer a string of bad results.
"It's not a problem, it is a challenge," Guardiola repeated. "They will do it, no problem, my players are the best." (©The Daily Telegraph, London)
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