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By Chris Bevan
“When his injury is as bad as it looks, it alters the name Anfield. It’s that big”
This has been the reaction on Match of the Day of BBC pundit Jermaine Jenas, a few hours later seeing Manchester City protector Aymeric Laporte hauled off throughout their triumph over Brighton on 31.
After the extent of Laporte’s knee injury was evaluated over the international break, the news was not good for the Frenchman, or City.
Though the 25-year-old left-sided centre-back prevented the fate of Leroy Sane, who’s sidelined until March after damaging his posterior cruciate ligament he is not expected to return at the earliest, until the start of 2020.
If this prognosis is right, Laporte will miss 15 Premier League games and the beginning of their Carabao Cup defence.
It provides up to around a third of the year of City, thus we’re about to find out just how important he is – particularly as City’s two remaining older centre-backs have played .
Ever since then he joined City from Athletic Bilbao for #57m in the beginning of 2018, it has largely been’Laporte and another’ at the centre of the defence, but he has moved over to pay left-back of City.
“Laporte is their gladiator in the trunk – City’s chief and number one defender,” said BBC pundit Chris Sutton. “So it’s going to be fascinating to observe how they deal with no primary man.
“He’s for City exactly that which Virgil van Dijk is to get Liverpool. His primary job is defending, although it is necessary he can bring out the ball so well. He makes City more powerful, and he gives them equilibrium directly throughout the group.
“Pep named Laporte the greatest left-sided centre-back in Europe last month for a reason. Losing him impacts the dynamic of the whole back , and he’ll be a huge part missing from their team”
Together with John Stones too on his way back from injury, because Vincent Kompany left at the summer, without a replacement signed, Guardiola has just one completely fit mature centre-back – Nicolas Otamendi.
At the City can utilize into the gap to be plugged by Fernandinho.
Even the was training Laporte came off the bench to replace him in that place against Brighton got wounded, and may step in on Saturday even before.
When Stones is fit, Otamendi and he could – in theory form a much pairing.
They’ve played plenty of times together before previously, including in the Community Shield of this season, therefore familiarity won’t be a issue, however they do not seem to be a venture which Pep trusts.
Considering that the left-footed Laporte united in January 2018, Stones and Otamendi have begun together as centre-backs in a four-man defence just three times at 56 Premier League games, and in not one of the 14 Champions League ties City have played with in that time.
Last year they partnered each other in 3 FA Cup ties – against Burnley, Rotherham and Newport County – and against Bournemouth and Everton in the League.
The only other aggressive game they’ve started jointly as a central-defensive set in the last 20 months was from Huddersfield in the end of their 2017-18 season, creating a total of six games out of a possible 80 in most competitions (not including the Community Shield).
“He clearly doesn’t have a lot of faith in playing them together, that must be a concern for the upcoming few weeks,” said Sutton.
“That statistic is a sudden one,” added Danny Murphy. “It might be that the manager thinks they don’t function and a mix, or neither of these especially likes playing the left side”
Otamendi, who’s right-footed, typically moves from the perfect side into the abandoned when Laporte isn’t available – he did exactly that during the Brighton game – although Stones – another right-footer – has not played the left side having almost any spouse since the first weeks of his City career.
“Most centre-halves I played during my career got used to playing one facet in a four years, and that there were times once the supervisor would convince himself a protector was not as successful on the opposing side,” Murphy explained.
“In Liverpool, Sami Hypia would forever on the left, along with Jamie Carragher to the best. It was always Aaron Hughes on the best and Brede Hangeland.
“And when one of these was not fit, then the manager would always be taking a look at the equilibrium of the centre-halves, as opposed to only pure talent, if he chose a replacement – I remember that Chris Smalling never did too on the left once he came to that Fulham team as he did about the appropriate.
“With the caliber that Stones and Otamendi both have, I do not believe that they ought to be uncomfortable on the left, however you have to recall Pep watches them into practice daily. He will know something in his head about that match each other, and the remainder of the team.
“The other thing that might have been a factor in not choosing them together is how many mistakes they both make. Both of them are fantastic basketball players, but they have more errors in these than Kompany or even Laporte, which could be why Pep chooses to only play one of them.”
Stones in particular has come under fire for his mistakes, and he was left outside for a lot of the run-in to last year’s title victory.
“I believe Stones has got a bit to establish to Pep anyway, rather than just in this venture,” added Sutton. “That is a huge chance for you to do this.
“A number of his defending was suspicious over the last couple of years and, this past season, in the big games he was being left out. Laporte’s absence means he’s going to need to step up.”
While we must wait and see if Stones can win Guardiola over, it seems the City boss currently has faith in Fernandinho because of centre-back.
“He is really a holding midfielder and everybody knows thatI included,” Guardiola said after the Brighton game.
“But I think he’s the conditions to play at centre-back. He is intelligent, quick, powerful, he will go the ball and then he will see what is going on in front of him.”
Murphy agrees, explaining:”Provided that Rodri remains fit and may play with that holding role, then Fernandinho playing with centre-half isn’t really weakening City that far.
“He’s what Pep says, plus he’s super-experienced and very good on the ball. The way City play, he will have inter-changed using all the centre-halves all the time when he’s in his position.
“But the most significant thing for me personally is that he’s a pure defender. He enjoys doing it and that I don’t find this as a case of asking someone when he does not really wish to be there to be in a position. That’s when you get problems.
“As long as you have got the ideal physical attributes and also the ability, that Fernandinho does, then really it’s just a mindset shift. Since this is something different and new, he is probably very enthusiastic about it, and it is also far less demanding in your body to perform centre-half than midfield.
“He is not the only alternative option, however, because Kyle Walker has played at centre-half for England. I know that has been in a three, not just four, but Kyle is an experienced defender, who’s powerful and fast and good on the ball – I’d consider using him also.”
If there is anything positive about the injury of Laporte, it’s the timing.
City do not face any obstacles of Dinamo Zagreb Shakhtar Donetsk along with Atalanta, and their instant fixture list looks relatively form.
The defending champions do not play another side from last season’s top six until they face title rivals Liverpool at Anfield on 9 November, giving their Laporte-less defence lots of time in. They will have to be prepared to get the side of Klopp nonetheless.
“Both groups are completely persistent and if you examine the way that they ended last season and have begun that one, you can observe those head-to-heads will be absolutely crucial,” explained Sutton.
“It’s the tiny details that may well determine the title this year – there was only a stage between Liverpool and City out time, and it looks like it is going to be just as close this time.
“They have to be sitting there looking at one another and searching for small things which they are able to make the most of. This is only one of them. Of course they’ll play a role, although nobody desires matters to be decided by injuries.
“If City do keep having to use a makeshift centre-half, even a good one like Fernandinho, it may ultimately be the gap between them winning the name, or even Liverpool.
“In that situation, things like defending set-pieces could be problematic. City have something of there, even with Laporte in the team. Without me, I am sure most Premier League managers will think there’s an opportunity to target them aerially. That might be sufficient, although City might be just cost one target by it.
“They could get away with it within the upcoming few months as they’re such a fantastic side, but as soon as the big games like Liverpool come along it’s going to differ.
“That’s when it will be more of an issue and, for me personally, that is when Stones has to come to the party.”
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