Pep Guardiola is dealing with a shortage of personnel for the return leg between Manchester City and Sporting CP in the Champions League Round of 16.
Man City will meet again with their Portuguese opponents on Wednesday, protecting a 5-0 lead from the first leg. In theory, it should be straight-forward for them to reach the quarter-finals. However, as a standalone tie, the game at the Etihad Stadium will not be easy due to a lack of available players.
Guardiola has confirmed at his pre-match press conference that he only has 14 players in contention. Among those absent are Kyle Walker (suspension), Joao Cancelo (sickness) and Nathan Ake (injury risk).
It means the defence will be particularly difficult to fill, with Ruben Dias also set for a longer spell on the sidelines. Guardiola was subsequently left asking for solutions to his media audience.
Asked who will play at right-back, he replied: “I don’t know yet. I’ll think about it. Tell me solutions!”
Two suggestions were made to him, Fernandinho and John Stones. Guardiola listened before hinting they could call up some academy players.
He continued: “And who? Fernandinho maybe? We’ll speak with some players. I don’t know, we have training, I will see. We have players in the academy and maybe we’ll use them.”
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Given the shortage in the position, Guardiola is still not happy with Walker for his sending off in the group stage against RB Leipzig.
Asked about his three-match ban (this will be the second game), Guardiola said: “Kyle Walker deserved the three. He did a stupid thing and he deserved it.
“I’m not so kind to Kyle for this kind of action. I am still so angry with him. He knows it.
“He’s so important Kyle Walker for us. See how he played against United? Against Leipzig he did this action when we had qualified, on 75 or 80 minutes. He deserved it. The club appealed, I do not agree. Hopefully, he learn for the future.
“I said right after the game he deserved it.”
As for their dilemma centrally, Ake should soon be back. But Guardiola felt it wasn’t worth risking him against Sporting.
He said: “Next days I think he will be back but tomorrow too risky. With Ruben out we cannot risk it.
“I know we have good breaks but after this game we have recovery for everyone but we cannot lose Nathan. It’s too risky.”
Guardiola confirms who could be available
On the other hand, Guardiola confirmed Oleksandr Zinchenko is “ready” if needed and Kevin De Bruyne could play, but might not start since he is close to a suspension.
He also gave his backing to youth-team defender Luke Mbete, who will be in the squad.
Guardiola said: “He’s trained with us for a long time, application is so high, still young but tomorrow he’ll be with the squad and maybe we will need him. We will see.”
Despite the first-leg advantage, Guardiola is taking nothing for granted. But he still wants a result in the circumstances.
He said: “We had an incredible result in the first leg. Football is unpredictable, red cards, quality of opponent, we’ll take a top side as much as possible. Not many alternatives but will do the best team possible to win the game.”
In all honesty, City will be expecting no bumps in the road against Sporting. They should be able to take another step towards the Champions League trophy that has so far evaded them under Guardiola.
Also on course to retain their Premier League title, Guardiola believes his side are capable of winning both trophies if they have the right approach – and personnel.
He affirmed: “It can happen, that’s true. We have to recover people otherwise so difficult with 14 or 15 players you cannot sustain as much, we need the squad.
“We are going to try. Every season when we are fighting for both, we reach the semi-final and final, the treble – it’s just the next one, reach the quarter-final and step by step we’ll see.”