It did seem odd that, in the aftermath of Manchester City’s defeat to Norwich, there was talk of the champions needing to strengthen. By some accounts, Norwich’s entire squad cost less than a single City substitute, but yet – after the 3-2 reverse – it was the visitors who were felt to have a glaring absence in their team.
The name being uttered with a sigh was that of Aymeric Laporte. The “most solid and incredible defender that we had in the previous season”, in Pep Guardiola’s words, was missing from the City team with a knee injury and will continue to be missing until the new year. In his absence, the feeling went, City fell to pieces at the back.
Coming under particular scrutiny was the partnership of John Stones and Nicolás Otamendi in central defence. With both players making prominent errors would Guardiola really persist with them, with so much at stake and Liverpool already five points clear in the Premier League?Tammy Abraham revels up front but Chelsea need to tighten up at the back Read more“How many games have John and Nico played in the three seasons?” came Guardiola’s response.
“How many games have they played with Kyle Walker? Pah … a lot. Also Laporte made a mistake in the quarter-final of the Champions League, against Tottenham, when he never made a mistake before. We have to see what the problems are. If [the players] want to take a step for the club for themselves we are going to solve it.
“If today you believe I have doubts in my team because we lost a game …” he continued in rhetorical mode. “They gave me all the prestige I have in England. In the first season it was ‘fraud Guardiola, Fraudiola’ OK, and how it was not possible to play this way because you have too many tackles. It was these players who gave me the prestige I have and [talk] all round the world about how good a manager I am.
”So that’s that, then. Except. While Stones and Otamendi have played many games for City, they have done so together on few occasions. Saturday’s defeat was just the fourth time they have played as a pair since Laporte’s arrival in January 2018. Guardiola believes in his team and knows they have the capacity to learn and refocus.
But he has not sought to persevere with this partnership in the past.Bournemouth 3-1 Everton: Premier League – live! Read moreIn the short term he may persist, or perhaps may look to make good on his pledge to use Fernandinho as a centre-half. Certainly some more leadership in that area would not go amiss and it is not just Laporte but Vincent Kompany who City are missing in that regard.
The Frenchman and the Belgian were also the combination who provided the best results for City in the past 18 months (11 games started together and with a 91% win ratio).Often when Guardiola talks the conversation comes back to himself and there will be things he has to deal with too. He says his team spend every day on the training ground, “almost every day”, trying to correct the flaw that sees them exposed at the near post from.