Pep Guardiola isn't overly worried about Aymeric Laporte's latest injury or its impact on Manchester City's defensive depth. Instead, he believes his squad still has enough options at the back to negotiate a demanding upcoming run of fixtures, both domestically and in Europe.
Laporte limped off 33 minutes into the Citizens' 2-1 win away to Real Madrid in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League last 16 on Wednesday. It's another setback for the centre-back, who missed nearly five months of the season after undergoing knee surgery.
Guardiola spoke about how City will cope without their talisman at the back, per Charlotte Duncker of the Manchester Evening News: "He's injured. He's had four or five months and it's a problem when you come back, and he came back in this demanding game and we wanted him to be fit to the end. With John (Stones), Nico (Otamendi), Eric (Garcia), Ferna [Fernandinho], we can get through."
Guardiola's confidence is refreshing, but there is no doubt Laporte's injury comes at an inopportune moment during City's season. Sunday's 2020 Carabao Cup final against Aston Villa at Wembley is up next, with the second leg against Real set for March 17.
It's far from the ideal time for Guardiola to potentially be without the best defender in the squad, although details on the extent of Laporte's problem are not yet known.
The former Athletic Bilbao man offered a reminder of his value when he returned to the lineup for the 1-0 win away to Sheffield United on January 21. Laporte also started when West Ham United were beaten 2-0 and played 58 minutes of Saturday's 1-0 victory away to Leicester City.
The 25-year-old was withdrawn against the Foxes as a precautionary measure, per Press Association (h/t MailOnline).
Caution is something City can afford to take with Laporte's latest injury, provided Fernandinho continues to play as well as he did in the Spanish capital. The converted holding midfielder was magnificent at the Santiago Bernabeu, timing his tackles flawlessly and making several crucial last-ditch blocks.
The Brazilian has been Guardiola's most common choice to fill in for Laporte amid the struggles experienced by Stones and Otamendi. The latter was at fault for Isco's goal in Madrid, while Stones was completely overlooked in his manager's plans for a significant fixture:
While Fernandinho can excel in relief, his aggressiveness, positional sense and efficient distribution can be missed at the base of midfield. Guardiola may be best served getting 19-year-old Garcia more starting experience.
The Spaniard has already proved he can handle the pace of play in England's top flight when he delivered a fine cameo after replacing Laporte late on against the Blades.
Whichever players and formations he chooses, Guardiola needs to fortify a defence vulnerable at key moments this season. Conceding 29 times in the Premier League has helped wreck City's title defence, while an elusive European trophy can only be captured from a secure base.