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John Stones was the player that Manchester City could least afford to suffer an injury.
Unfortunately, that was exactly what happened last weekend. An agonising clutch of his hamstring gave an immediate news flash that the former Everton defender would miss several weeks.
Pep Guardiola was visibly frustrated after the match. Stones has become one of the league’s best defenders.
Unflappable on the ball, strong in the tackle and taking charge of the defence, the mockery of the England international last season seems futile. Guardiola has worked his magic on Stones, and the ex-Barnsley man has been the heart of a made-in-Yorkshire City defence.
Nicolas Otamendi has had a very good start to the season himself, but the Argentine is still prone to error. Without the calming Stones, Otamendi is an unknown quantity this year.
Vincent Kompany was once the talisman for Manchester City. To an extent, he must still be, but he brings an array of his own uncertainty. With the fixture list getting increasingly hectic, it is improbable that Kompany can play 270 minutes a week. Much like Ledley King in his latter Spurs day, the club captain must be wrapped in multiple layers of cotton wool.
Should Kompany suffer another lay-off, Guardiola is suddenly in a pickle. Fernandinho could well fill in at the back, but his role in midfield has been key. The other option is Eliaquim Mangala, who Guardiola spent the entirety of summer trying to offload.
The football City have produced this season is testament to Guardiola’s genius. If he could get Mangala to become a value squad member this season, though, it would be the greatest feat of his managerial career. It would surely raise the question of divine intervention at the Etihad Stadium.
Even if Mangala does not become Gerard Pique, Manchester City do not have too much to worry about with Stones’ injury. Yes, their failure to add a centre-back in the summer is still odd, but their majestic Premier League start gives them plenty of margin for error.
There are few better deputies than Kompany – assuming he can stay fully fit – and, in truth, this City team are so unstoppable in attack that they will always back themselves to outscore the opponent.
Stones may well be City’s most important player, but the fact that his absence is not a disaster speaks volumes of just how strong they are. His injury could become a significant problem if others miss out, until then, Guardiola has plenty left in the pack to shuffle even with the absence of Benjamin Mendy as well.
Written by Sam Cox
Follow Sam on Twitter @SamRCox_
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