Pep Guardiola Sets 'January, February' Return Date for Aymeric Laporte

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistSeptember 13, 2019

Manchester City's Aymeric Laporte runs for the ball during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at Etihad stadium in Manchester, England, Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
Rui Vieira/Associated Press

Pep Guardiola expects to be without the best centre-back in his Manchester City squad for quite a while after confirming Aymeric Laporte won't return from injury until 2020.

Guardiola discussed the knee injury suffered against Brighton & Hove Albion on August 31 and Laporte's  subsequent surgery, specifically how long the Frenchman will be on the treatment table, per Stuart Brennan of the Manchester Evening News: "Long. Five months, six months. Next year for sure...January, February."

It's a bleak prognosis, considering Laporte's influence and importance. The former Athletic Bilbao star combines aggressiveness with patience and timing in a way no other City defender can.

The 25-year-old is also highly competent with the ball at his feet. His astute distribution is key to the stylish, possession-based game Guardiola loves.

Squawka Football @Squawka

Since his Premier League debut, no defender has made more passes into the final third than Aymeric Laporte. The full top five of outfield players below. 👇 https://t.co/NogEUIkrBp

WhoScored.com @WhoScored

Aymeric Laporte: Has made more passes (324) than any other player in the Premier League this season For more player stats -- https://t.co/wcwRlNk4pj https://t.co/JFrn4C9mFf

City's playing style shouldn't suffer too much with John Stones back in the fold. The ball-playing centre-back had been dealing with a thigh injury, but Guardiola applauded the way Stones has been training and indicated he could play a part during Saturday's game away to Norwich City in the Premier League.

Stones would partner Nicolas Otamendi at the heart of City's back four if he's fit enough to start against the injury-hit Canaries. Guardiola knows his central-defensive options are thin since Vincent Kompany returned to former club Anderlecht in the summer and Eliaquim Mangala joined La Liga side Valencia.

Holding midfielder Fernandinho could be pressed into service as an auxiliary centre-back, but the 34-year-old is hardly the ideal solution.

It's a bad time for City to be left short in a key area, with the club's UEFA Champions League campaign starting away to Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday. 

Guardiola will be boosted by the return of Stones.
Guardiola will be boosted by the return of Stones.Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The manager will rue missing out on Harry Maguire this summer after revealing City couldn't outbid local rivals Manchester United to the England international's signature.

A paucity of choices underpinning his defence is the one obvious weakness in Guardiola's team. City are loaded in every other area, particularly midfield with David Silva, Ilkay Gundogan, Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva.

Things are just as impressive up front thanks to strikers Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus as well as wingers Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez. This much attacking talent can help City maintain recent dominance of England's top flight, but uncertainty at the back could derail Guardiola's bid to finally win the Europe's biggest prize with the club.