Manchester City’s defensive woes have increased after John Stones pulled up injured in training ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League clash with Shakhtar Donetsk.
Manager Pep Guardiola fears he could be without the England centre-back for up to six weeks after Stones suffered a thigh injury during a morning session in Kharkiv.
The Premier League champions are already without Aymeric Laporte until the new year and, after Vincent Kompany left at the end of last season, Nicolas Otamendi is now the club’s only fit senior centre-back.
Midfielder Fernandinho, who has been training as a defender in the early weeks of the campaign, is now set to be pressed into action as a makeshift centre-back in the Group C clash against Shakhtar.
Speaking at his pre-match press conference, Guardiola said: “John Stones was injured this morning. (He could be out) a month – four, five or six weeks. It is a muscular problem.”
Stones’ injury further weakens City as they attempt to win a third successive Premier League title and win Europe’s elite competition for the first time.
But Guardiola sees it as a challenge and he is determined to make the most of it.
He said: “It’s a big challenge. For me as a manager it is an incredible challenge.
“We’ve got just one central defender in Nico – but I believe a lot in the something people don’t know, which is the spirit and commitment.
“We have to get 11 players out and on the pitch and make an extra effort. I like it, (the chance) to prove myself and show we are able to find a solution for the team, to make an incredible step forward and find a solution to this problem that we have.
“It’s not a problem, it is a challenge. They will do it, no problem. My players are the best.
“Football is not how you handle the good situations, it is how you handle the bad ones. The ideal situation does not exist in football, it is how you approach the challenge and I am ready for the challenge. I like it, I like to love this situation.”
Guardiola also took the opportunity to defend Stones and Otamendi after criticism of their performance in Saturday’s surprise defeat at Norwich.
“No comment on what the pundits say,” he said. “I’ve got respect for what John and Nico have done, and what they continue to do for our club.”
Asked if team spirit had been hit by the loss at Carrow Road, Guardiola said: “No. The spirit is good.”
City and Shakhtar, the Ukrainian champions, are familiar foes having also faced each other in the group stages in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. Guardiola knows Shakhtar even better having faced them 11 times throughout a managerial career that has also included spells in charge of Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
“I have bought an apartment here!” Guardiola said. “I came here many times and it’s always good. With Barcelona, Bayern and now City, I’ve come almost every season.”
Guardiola also confirmed midfielder Phil Foden had not travelled to Ukraine due to a stomach virus but Benjamin Mendy was with the squad and in contention to make his first appearance of the season.