With Ruben Dias seemingly ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation, Guardiola needs to settle on which defender will partner
Pep Guardiola confirmed on Friday that Ruben Dias is progressing well as he looks to recover from a hamstring injury,
an update that already has fans scratching their heads over who will be the centre-back’s partner for the remainder of the season.
The Portuguese international was replaced at half-time against Peterborough United in the FA Cup
last-16, with Guardiola confirming he had picked up a muscular injury and was forced off the field. Assessments revealed that Dias would be out for four to six weeks,
but the manager has since said that he is ‘incredibly getting better’, with his recovery going well,
though doctors have advised the Manchester City boss to ‘be careful’ when easing him back into action.
Fortunately for City, most of their players have just jetted off around the globe during the two-week international break. It gives Dias more time to recover and be at his optimum for the club’s incredibly tough April schedule, which features both Liverpool and Atletico Madrid – twice.
Since his absence, City has played four games with the center-back pairing of John Stones and Aymeric Laporte. The duo has conceded two goals in that time, albeit they both turned out to be consolations.
However, there has been a hint of desperation amongst City supporters to see Dias return to the starting line-up immediately, hinting that his absence may have coincided with the club’s slight wobble in form. On Sunday, Laporte lost the ball 10 times across the 90 minutes and –
rather unfortunately – deflected the ball into his own net for Southampton’s equaliser.
Pep Guardiola has a season-defining Man City decision to make with Aymeric Laporte and John Stones
His centre-back partner was not at his tidy best either,
losing the ball on seven occasions and looking frustrated with himself for some slack build-up play.
It was a similar story against Crystal Palace last week where,
against a far more clinical attack, the Blues could quite easily have lost the game.
It’s hard to pinpoint the issue with this particular pairing. Is it the skillsets, is it a communication problem,
or is Dias that important that his presence is sorely missed when he’s not available?
So, when the defender returns – likely after the break –
one of the two will have to drop out for the crunch fixtures.
So far this season, Guardiola has opted to use Laporte next to Dias. However, Stones did form an excellent partnership with Dias throughout last season,
so the Catalan tactician may be tempted to reignite that relationship to bring back some defensive solidity.
One thing is for sure, the backline will be tested to the absolute limit in the next few months. Coming up against forwards like Mohamed Salah, Joao Felix and Antoine Griezmann,
they will have to be on top of their game.
So, it’s essential that Guardiola gets his pairing right. Both are world-class and have their own unique qualities,
but it’s likely only one will play next to Dias when club football restarts in two weeks’ time.