MANCHESTER: Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola returns to the touchline for the Premier League champions’ visit to Cardiff City looking for his team to recover from a shock midweek home defeat to Lyon.
Guardiola, serving a one-match UEFA suspension for being sent to the stands in last season’s quarterfinal defeat to Liverpool, watched in horror from the stands as a dismal first-half display led to defeat against the French side.
After accumulating 100 points in the Premier League last season, winning the Champions League for the first time in City’s history is the next goal for Guardiola.
Yet an unexpected defeat to begin their European campaign exposed City’s failure to add reinforcements to arguably the only area of the pitch where they lack genuine strength in depth.
Brazilian midfielder Fernandinho has been inspirational for City in his five seasons in the Premier League, but he was at fault in the build-up to both Lyon goals on Wednesday.
The 33-year-old may be due a break in the Welsh capital this weekend having played every minute of City’s seven games so far in the new campaign.
But Guardiola has no natural replacement after missing out on his pursuit of Chelsea midfielder Jorginho, who instead chose to follow his former Napoli boss Maurizio Sarri to Stamford Bridge.
City’s failure to land an alternative has seen Guardiola enter the new season short of cover for a crucial position in his 4-3-3 system.
Instead, City spent a club record fee on further strengthening their attacking options, signing Algerian winger Riyad Mahrez from Leicester for £60 million (RM330 million).
Despite the loss of Belgian playmaker Kevin De Bruyne through injury, Mahrez has started just two league games so far and not yet completed a full 90 minutes for Guardiola.
Magnificent in Leicester’s title-winning season of 2015-16, Mahrez is not the first new signing to have required time to adapt to Guardiola’s demanding ways.
But, in hindsight, a different type of midfield player might have been a better acquisition for City this summer even if his manager has no doubts that he will prove a long-term success at his club.
“Riyad is going to come back to the same form we saw when he was with Leicester,” insisted Guardiola, citing Bernardo Silva’s stunning start to the campaign after a year to bed into City’s system.
Silva scored his side’s goal in midweek and is likely to retain his place, but Guardiola is expected to make changes in his search for a reaction against a Cardiff side still looking for their first victory since returning to the top flight.
Sergio Agüero and Leroy Sané are expected to return after impressing off the bench against Lyon.