City's Achilles heel - defence
MANCHESTER, England (AP):
Partly out of desperation, partly due to having faith in his players' versatility, Pep Guardiola has shown no fear in experimenting with Manchester City's defence during his time at the English club.
Right winger Jesus Navas was briefly redeployed at right back, to no great success.
Left back Aleksandar Kolarov was turned into a ball-playing centre back.
Holding midfielder Fernandinho sometimes switched to left back.
Then, this season, Fabian Delph a central midfielder has a new home at left back.
The City manager might require more ingenuity to plug defensive gaps in the run-up to Christmas, with the Premier League leaders short of numbers heading into the busiest part of the season, when they play 13 games in 43 days across three competitions.
Guardiola confirmed yesterday that John Stones, a mainstay of City's defence, could be out until the start of January with a hamstring injury sustained in the 2-0 win over Leicester on Saturday.
It leaves Guardiola with a problem, considering left back Benjamin Mendy (knee) is out until April, Vincent Kompany and Delph have poor injury records, and City's resources were already bare in that department after missing out on key targets in the offseason.
"I like to (see) how we react with these problems, how many players are going to play in different positions than they are used to play," Guardiola said, appearing to relish the challenge. "Always when you're champions, you have to handle the bad situations, the tough situations."
Guardiola spoke of maybe playing Kyle Walker or Danilo, two out-and-out full backs, at centre back. He rates Fernandinho so highly that he believes the Brazilian can fill in anywhere across the back line.
"We will find a solution," he said. "When the spirit is good and everyone can make a step forward, it will not be a problem."
The scenario appears to have thrown Eliaquim Mangala a lifeline at City. The France centre back was signed from Porto in August 2014 for a fee that could rise to 42 million pounds (now $55 million), which raised eyebrows at the time.
Mangala was in and out of the team under former manager Manuel Pellegrini and has been largely frozen out by Guardiola, spending last season on loan at Spanish club Valencia. During the summer, he seemed surplus to requirements City failed with repeated bids for West Bromwich Albion's Jonny Evans but didn't find a club.
Now, he could play a key role for the team, even though his poor standard of distribution hardly makes him a Guardiola-type player.
"It's not so complicated because I'm realistic. That's me," said Mangala, speaking ahead of a Champions League match against Feyenoord where he is in line to start. "In football, anything can happen. I am here today. Maybe in the summer or one year (ago), we never know what's going to happen. You have to be focused on what you can control."