Guardiola plans overhaul to fix City defence

LONDON • Ahead of their Champions League opener at Shakhtar Donetsk today, Manchester City's Rodri has vowed "to kill our next opponents".

But pundits remain unconvinced after their weaknesses were laid bare over the weekend.

The Premier League champions slumped to their first loss of the season after a defensive horror show against Norwich saw them concede three sloppy goals, confirming predictions that key defender Aymeric Laporte would be a big miss.

The Frenchman will be out for six months with a knee injury, so in the meantime - at least until the January transfer window opens - City only have two recognised centre-backs in John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi.

In light of their Carrow Road capitulation, manager Pep Guardiola is expected to shake up his defence and Otamendi, who was particularly culpable, looks likely to be axed.

According to British media reports, Fernandinho is set to drop into defence for his first start of the term against Shakhtar in Group C.

The Brazil midfielder played as an auxiliary defender against Arsenal in the league last season and Guardiola will be hoping his experience can provide a blanket of security in Laporte's absence.

Kyle Walker also did not escape censure for his shaky display on Saturday, with Guardiola keen to hand Joao Cancelo, the world's second most expensive full-back at £60 million (S$102.7 million), his debut since making the switch from Juventus in the summer.

Benjamin Mendy, whose past two campaigns have been derailed by injuries, is another who is pushing to displace left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko, having been included in the travelling party to Shakhtar.

However, pundits are still sceptical the changes can improve City's chances of lifting their maiden European Cup - they have failed to make the final four since Guardiola took over in 2016 - unless Fernandinho can mitigate the loss of Laporte.

Jamie Carragher told Sky Sports that Otamendi's tendency to dive into tackles means "he's not good enough to play for Manchester City".

Gary Neville also said Guardiola would be working on a Plan B as he will not "accept what he has, he always tries to come up with new systems".

Elsewhere, last season's Champions League finalists Tottenham open their Group B campaign with a trip to Greece's Olympiakos today.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2019, with the headline 'Guardiola plans overhaul to fix City defence'. Print Edition | Subscribe