Manchester City’s injury problems so no signs of improvement ahead of a daunting week of trips to Chelsea, PSG and Liverpool.
According to the latest reports, Aymeric Laporte and John Stones face a further two weeks out of action, while Ilkay Gundogan joined Rodri and Aleks Zinchenko on the sidelines this week. Those five players would have been certain to play in the trio of important games against direct rivals in the Premier League and Champions League.
City might have to go without them and with a smaller pool of players for three games that could go on to define their season – or at least the next few months going into a busy winter period.
Pep Guardiola wasn’t happy with his defence and defensive midfielder in the stalemate with Southampton, namely for their ineffectiveness of bringing the ball out from the back to initiate attacks. Against Wycombe, he brought in academy players in those five important positions – partly to give his senior players a rest but also likely to make a point.
The likes of Joao Cancelo, Ruben Dias and Kyle Walker will surely return at Stamford Bridge, and Nathan Ake could return from compassionate leave if the time is right for him.
Questions have been raised about Fernandinho’s performances so far this season, although there might not be an opportunity to take him out of the firing line and will also be needed to lead the team through a difficult period.
So perhaps a change of formation could be useful to help those players who will be needed to stand firm in defence against three of the world’s best attacks.
Even if that change means a formation that strikes fear into City fans: three at the back.
With Dias an obvious pick, injuries could mean that Ake is the only available partner for him, and he would be the player targeted by Romelu Lukaku, Kylian Mbappe and Mo Salah. Adding another body at the back could take the pressure off Ake and make City’s defence stronger.
Fernandinho could fit that bill, while stepping forward when City have possession to the base of midfield to help initiate the attacks Guardiola is so keen for his defenders to do.
At wing-back, Kyle Walker on the right and Joao Cancelo on the left are clear choices after their rests vs Wycombe. Cancelo could move into that inverted full-back role when required, too, with Ake deputising at left-back and offering a fluidity to a rigid formation that has often caused City problems.
With a midfield duo made up of Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and possibly Jack Grealish or Phil Foden, City could then rely on a strong attack to get them through their testing week.
Grealish and Foden can also contribute up front, along with Gabriel Jesus, Ferran Torres, Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez.
By adding another body in defence, even if it means three at the back, Guardiola could be easing the pressure on a back-line that will face its strongest three opponents all season at a time when the defence is at its weakest.