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Guardiola backs Fernandinho as Man City defensive crisis bites

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Manchester City’s Spanish manager Pep Guardiola (L) gestures with Manchester City’s Brazilian midfielder Fernandinho at the final whistle during the English Premier League football match between Everton and Manchester City at Goodison Park in Liverpool, north-west England on September 28, 2019. (Photo by Lindsey Parnaby / AFP) /

Pep Guardiola backed 34-year-old Fernandinho’s ability to cope with a heavy workload as he juggles his stretched defensive resources for Tuesday’s home Champions League match against Dinamo Zagreb.

City is missing the injured John Stones and Aymeric Laporte and the manager was forced to field the makeshift pairing of Nicolas Otamendi and midfielder Fernandinho in central defence against Everton on Saturday.

The Premier League champions had some shaky moments defensively at Goodison Park but emerged 3-1 winners to keep the gap to Liverpool at five points.

Guardiola said Fernandinho had the durability to fill in at centre-half despite his age.

“If he feels fit he can play (twice a week),” Guardiola said on Monday. “It depends on him in terms of physical regeneration after the games.

“When John (Stones) is back we will have an alternative, and now we have young alternatives. Rodri can play in that position.

“Last season he (Fernandinho) started to struggle a little bit, the last part of the season, but the previous season he played every three days. He was one of the players with most minutes.”

Guardiola praised 31-year-old Otamendi as a “huge competitor”, saying he could also play regularly despite slipping down the pecking order last season.

Midfielder Rodri said the spate of defensive injuries was not an “excuse” for City, who won their Champions League opener 3-0 away to Shakhtar Donetsk.

“We have enough players to fit this problem,” he said. “We have players who can play in many positions like Fernandinho and (Oleksandr) Zinchenko. It’s a tough time for the team but it will make us stronger.”

Guardiola also had warm words for Riyad Mahrez, who impressed in the 3-1 win against Everton and has been directly involved in 17 goals in his past 17 starts for City in all competitions.

“He’s been so decisive, clinical. Defensively his commitment is higher than last season and offensively every time… you have this feeling he is going to create something,” said the City boss.

“Hopefully he can maintain that level for a long time.”

Guardiola also believes his side need to make their supporters, who have had a love-hate relationship with UEFA competitions, excited by the Champions League, which they have never won.

“The only way to seduce them is winning games and playing good,” he said.

“For the fans, the Premier League here in England is the most exciting. We know as a club. We made a poll and people prefer by far a third Premier League than to win the Champions League.”

“But this competition is nice too and our fans, they have to live this competition like a dream,” added Guardiola, who won the trophy twice as Barcelona boss.

“The only way is to say to the fans, ‘come to the stadium and support us because these guys deserve it’,” he said.

“Like David Silva, quickest to 200 Premier League wins. These guys are outrageous, they are top.”


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