Manchester City return to Premier League summit but Guardiola sweats on injuries
Pep Guardiola counted the cost of a comfortable 2-0 victory over Cardiff that took his team to the top of the Premier League on Wednesday as he faced the prospect of an FA Cup semi-final without a fit left-back.
City, still in the hunt to win all four of the trophies they entered at the start of the season, take on Brighton at Wembley on Saturday, bidding to reach their second final of the campaign.
But they will be without left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko, who limped off against Cardiff after just 18 minutes with a hamstring injury that will rule him out for a number of games.
And with England international Fabian Delph also injured and Frenchman Benjamin Mendy yet to prove his match fitness to his manager, Guardiola admitted he has a problem ahead of the Wembley visit.
“It doesn’t look good,” said Guardiola. “We will know after tomorrow but it doesn’t look good for the next games.
“Fabian Delph is out, Benjamin Mendy, we will see tomorrow how he feels, how he trains, we don’t have many options.” Striker Sergio Aguero is also a doubt for the semi-final against Brighton, with Guardiola not prepared to risk the Argentine veteran against Cardiff with so many crucial games coming up, particularly the two-legged Champions League quarter-final against Tottenham.
But at least City advanced to the top of the table with the minimum of effort, moving a point clear of Liverpool after the same number of games played, the 25th time this season the top place in the division has changed hands.
“We have the feeling if we drop points we will not be champions,” said Guardiola, who saw his side win an eighth consecutive match in the league.
“But people said it would be easy, midweek against Cardiff. The way we started, the focus on what we have to do.
“The goals we scored with the chances, we should have scored more, that’s the regret but the other side it was really good.” Guardiola was able to make seven changes for the visit of Neil Warnock’s struggling team.
The alterations did not dull City’s attacking intent but Gabriel Jesus was guilty of a string of first-half misses.
Kevin De Bruyne claimed the first goal, after just five minutes, from Aymeric Laporte’s through ball, with a strong run and blistering shot from a tight angle that left questions over Neil Etheridge, beaten at his near post although the City man later confessed he had intended to cross the ball.
Leroy Sane struck shortly before the interval, driving a low shot into the far corner after Riyad Mahrez’s cross had been cushioned into his path via the chest of Jesus.
But the Brazilian should have done better from any number of first-half chances, starting after just 34 seconds when he slid in and narrowly missed converting De Bruyne’s low cross into an open net.
After the break, City maintained their dominance and, in one intoxicating five-minute spell alone, six good City chances came and went - Etheridge saving well from teenage debutant Phil Foden twice, a Laporte header, Mahrez and Sane, while Fernandinho struck a post for good measure.
By the time Oumar Niasse missed a glorious one-on-one chance against Ederson late on, the outcome had long since been decided.
“They started like Real Madrid of 10 years ago, everybody is so quick and confident on the ball, with their movement,” said Warnock of City. “I’ve not seen anything like it.”