LONDON • Just when Pep Guardiola thought there was light at the end of the tunnel, Manchester City's threadbare defensive resources were dealt another blow yesterday after he confirmed Oleksandr Zinchenko and Rodri would be out the next few weeks.
The Premier League champions have struggled to fill the hole left by Aymeric Laporte's knee injury.
In the two months since the Frenchman's last game, they have experimented with several partnerships at the back without any iteration particularly convincing.
John Stones returned only last weekend against Crystal Palace after spending a month on the sidelines with a knee ailment, while Nicolas Otamendi, Guardiola's other fit centre-back, has been criticised for several costly errors this campaign.
The situation has been so dire, leaving Guardiola with little option but to field Rodri and Fernandinho, midfielders by trade, as his first-choice centre-back pairing.
While the makeshift partnership showed promise in the last two games - the only ones they played together - Guardiola must chop and change with Rodri not likely to "be ready until after the (next) international break" next month.
At his pre-match press conference for today's league clash against Aston Villa at the Etihad Stadium, he revealed more injury worries to contend with.
Confirming Ukraine left-back Zinchenko had gone under the knife, the Spaniard said: "He had a contact with a knee. He felt something in the bone and has to stop.
All the credit is to Raheem. We talk as a group, the quality of everyone helps the rest of the players. The credit is to him and the rest of the players. We dream of players getting better, month by month, season by season.
PEP GUARDIOLA, Manchester City manager, refusing to accept credit for Raheem Sterling's flourish of form this term.
"He had something to clean up the knee. It was not a big issue. Five or six weeks."
Guardiola, however, does have options at left-back in Spaniard Angelino and France international Benjamin Mendy, even though the latter is also injury prone.
But it is at centre-back where he has a dearth of options, with City due to visit Anfield on Nov 10 with a hamstrung backline.
Still, the Spaniard will not risk throwing Stones back into the fray against Villa as "it's not about the first choice, it's about being fit".
Revealing that the England international was still feeling his way back, he added: "He has had many injuries. That's why he couldn't play (in their 5-1 Champions League defeat of Atalanta on Tuesday)."
At least Guardiola still has an abundance of riches up front, and in Raheem Sterling, the hosts have a forward at the top of his game.
The England international has 12 goals in 13 appearances this season after his midweek treble, and the City boss believes his drive to improve means he can still "get better".