For once, Pep can pick team easily

For once, Pep can pick team easily

LONDON • Selection problems for Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola usually take the form of who to leave out.

But with the squad hit by an injury crisis, a shorter-than-usual pre-season and Covid-19 issues, it may be the last men standing who make the team, according to midfielder Ilkay Gundogan.

Kevin de Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus, Aymeric Laporte and Nathan Ake all missed Wednesday’s 3-1 Champions League Group C opening win over Porto.

City then received another blow when Fernandinho was ruled out for up to six weeks after suffering a leg injury late in the game.

“I think we’re struggling at the moment,” Gundogan told BT Sport.

“Fernandinho went off in the last minute. We have a few injured players. We have players in different conditions. Even me, I’m not 100 per cent yet because I was out with Covid.

“We’re all in different moments. It’s the challenge this season and it’s not going to end for a while, but we will take every game as it comes. We have enough players who have the quality to play.

“It’s not going to be difficult for Pep to choose the 11 because some players will be tired, they can’t play every game, others need to play.

“Obviously, we’re glad we have a big squad but not everyone is there yet and not everyone is at 100 per cent.”

With a taxing schedule ahead, Guardiola expects more injuries to follow.

City face another 17 games this year with all six Champions League group-stage matches packed into a seven-week stretch either side of the November international break.

They have struggled to hit the ground running this term and Luis Diaz’s solo effort put the visitors in front in the first half.

But Sergio Aguero levelled with a contentious penalty and the Premier League side’s quality shone through after half-time.

IT IS WHAT IT IS

We’re all in different moments. It’s the challenge this season and it’s not going to end for a while, but we will take every game as it comes. We have enough players who have the quality to play.

ILKAY GUNDOGAN, City midfielder, who scored before being taken off and is still not fully fit after overcoming Covid.

Gundogan’s free kick and substitute Ferran Torres’ fine finish moved City to the top of Group C.

“It’s a good start for us,” said Guardiola.

“We knew the games at home you have to win in this competition.

“(Fernandinho) is the bad news, he has a muscle problem so he will be a big loss. In this period, we need everyone but with this calendar, it happens.”

Given that Laporte and Fernandinho, who can fill in at the back, are out, while John Stones is out of favour, Eric Garcia will have an important role to play for now.

The Spain defender, who did well against Porto, is into the final year of his deal and was close to sealing a move back to Barcelona during the transfer window.

La Masia graduate Garcia has turned down an extension as he is keen to return to the Nou Camp, but Guardiola remains hopeful an agreement can be struck with the 19-year-old.

“I know he wanted to leave, but he’s going to stay and maybe we can seduce him this year to extend the contract with us,” the Catalan said.

“He’s a guy who is so stable in many things and we’re so happy.”

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS