Aymeric Laporte injury presents City with early season test

Manchester City’s 4-0 home win over Brighton in their final game before the first international break of the season could hardly have gone any smoother. Indeed, the Premier League champions were in control for the majority of the match, barely moving out of second gear as they struck four past the visiting Seagulls.

However, this could turn out to be a match that has a big bearing on City’s Premier League title defence. It was only 37 minutes into the game when Aymeric Laporte crumpled to the ground after injuring himself in a tackle. At first, it didn’t appear so serious, but the Frenchman was soon stretchered off.

Now, it seems that Laporte will be spend a not-so-significant amount of time on the sidelines. This leaves Pep Guardiola short of options at the back. City were already somewhat short of options before Laporte’s injury following the surprise exit of Vincent Kompany at the end of last season. Now, they are down to bare bones.

Nicolas Otamendi has been playing as City’s first choice centre back pairing with Laporte, but doubts over the Argentine’s concentration persist. John Stones has also spent the first part of the season injured and so Guardiola could be forced into using Fernadinho as a centre back for the next few weeks, at least until Stones returns to full fitness.

This will put huge pressure on a Man City defence which has already looked vulnerable at times early on this season. Tottenham exposed this in coming away from the Etihad Stadium with a point and it could be the case that more opposition teams more emboldened when faced with a weakened City side.

With the Premier League title race as tight as it already is, Laporte’s injury presents Man City with an early test in their season. They can’t afford to let Liverpool build a commanding lead at the top of the table. There is next to nothing between the two sides and so an injury to a key player, like Laporte, could prove pivotal, even if he is missing for just a few weeks.

Of course, if there’s one team that can absorb the loss of a defender like Laporte, it’s Man City. Their passing game makes it very difficult for opponents to expose them at the back. But nonetheless, the margins at the top of the Premier League table right now are so thin it could prove significant.

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Back to business for Manchester City

For the mess that Manchester City have been in off the pitch with these Football Leaks allegations, it was business as usual for Pep Guardiola’s team on Saturday afternoon after they made West Ham United look like a Championship club. David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sané had the Premier League champions 3-0 up inside 35 minutes before the latter added a second in second-half stoppage time.

For the fans of Manchester City, it was a sense of relief. With an international break last weekend, the last two weeks have been torturous for City fans following allegations by Football Leaks suggesting that the club may have conducted itself dishonestly or sought to illegitimately evade financial fair play (FFP) rules, with UEFA officials now examining these allegations before a likely investigation.

These allegations made by German outlet Der Spiegel suggest that Manchester City had tried to cheat FFP rules by City selling image rights of players to a company, Fordham Sports Management, to lower their wage bill. Whether this is true or not, it could be damaging to Manchester City while the consequences could well be severe. Manchester City aren’t the only club involved in these Football Leaks but with the eye of the world watching, Guardiola would have been keen to not let it affect his team.

Their performance against West Ham United on Saturday afternoon suggests that normality has remained on the pitch with Guardiola’s side now two points clear ahead of closest challengers Liverpool following their 4-0 win in London. And while the score line may suggest City were in top form, it certainly wasn’t their best performance with West Ham under par, as has often been the case this season. As one of two remaining undefeated teams, Pep Guardiola’s task will be to keep his players focussed with an important Champions League fixture coming up.

Despite that, Manchester City have scored 21 goals in the first-half of Premier League games this season, more than Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and 13 other clubs have in total, per Manchester Evening News journalist Simon Bajkowski. But while it’s an impressive stat, it still won’t be good enough for Pep Guardiola who rightly always wants more from his players.

“I give a lot of credit to our players for the victory, but it was not the best performance. I think we got a bit lucky. West Ham had a lot of chances and should have scored. But we will have more chances to be a lot better,” Guardiola said in his post-match press conference.

“We are consistent and we are a humble team, today we wasn’t so good but I love the way we run. The Premier League remains tough and we cannot deny this. I didn’t expect after what we achieved last season to have these results.”

Raheem Sterling integral to Manchester City’s season

One of those players that Pep Guardiola wants more of is perhaps Raheem Sterling, despite his impressive stats. Frustrating for England, Pep Guardiola has moulded the 23-year-old into one of the best players in the Premier League. In 44 Premier League fixtures, Sterling has 25 goals and 18 assists but Guardiola surely believes that the youngster can still do better. And maybe that’s just one reason why Manchester City have just extended the contract of Sterling until 2023, worth a potential £300,000 per week.

The understanding that Raheem Sterling has with both Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sané shares the same characteristics as that of Samuel Eto’o, Thierry Henry and Lionel Messi of Guardiola’s Barcelona side in 2009. And although Pep Guardiola has distanced himself from his time at Barcelona, this Manchester City side certainly shares the same philosophy to some degree.

Whether they retain their Premier League title this season, this Manchester City squad is frightening and will no doubt go down as one of the greatest teams in European history. Of course, winning the Champions League is the goal for everyone involved with the club, it’s the trophy that’s eluded them while many suggest winning the European competition eclipses that of winning another Premier League title.

They have the players, the staff and the backing to do so but it will be up to Pep Guardiola to guide them to a Champions League final, something they’ve yet to do.

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