Ruben Dias, John Stones and Kyle Walker will miss the final three games of Manchester City’s season in a major blow to their title race hopes.
City moved three points clear of Liverpool at the top of the Premier League table with a convincing 5-0 thrashing of Newcastle at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
But Pep Guardiola confirmed that neither Walker, Stones nor Dias – who was forced off at half-time with a muscular problem – would be fit for their last three games of the season.
Walker was forced off in the second half of Wednesday’s Champions League loss at Real Madrid with fresh ankle problems. Stones has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury.
Speaking in his post-match press conference, Guardiola said: “Ruben, Kyle and John are out until the end of the season.”
With Nathan Ake struggling with an ankle problem Guardiola said he is down to “three defenders for three games”.
Fernandinho, who is leaving City at the end of the season, replaced Dias in the victory over Newcastle and asked how crucial the 37-year-old now becomes, Guardiola said: “A lot, otherwise, it’s CJ (Ega-Riley) or (Luke) Mbete.
“In this situation it’s not a problem, Rodri can play there. We have the academy. Everyone has to do extra. Thirteen players and a half for these games and everyone has to do more and more to help our absence. We arrive with problems and that’s all. Fernandinho did good and we are going to do it.”
Man City’s final Premier League fixtures
Wednesday – Wolves (a) Premier League, live on Sky Sports
May 15 – West Ham (a) Premier League, live on Sky Sports
May 22 – Aston Villa (h) Premier League
Nev: City defence ‘obliterated’ | A boost for Liverpool’s chances
Speaking on The Gary Neville podcast:
“With Dias injured, they are going to teams who have got systems of play that can hurt Man City. I do believe Wolves or West Ham could shock them. Both teams have had good seasons. They are awkward.
“City will need to be at their best as their centre-back partnership has been obliterated.
“The injury is a boost for Liverpool’s chances. I do think there is something left in this title race. It won’t go plain sailing to the end.”
Analysis: Man City still in full control of the title race
Sky Sports’ Adam Bate:
Asked on Friday afternoon what response he expected from his players following their Champions League elimination by Real Madrid, Pep Guardiola told Sky Sports, “I think we are going to perform well. I know we are going to play like who we are. We are going to try to win the game, playing our best, that is for sure.”
There were some worrying moments early on and who knows what frailties might have been exposed had Chris Wood done better with a free header from close range after eight minutes. But what followed was an exhibition that underlined why City are top again.
With Jack Grealish and Joao Cancelo providing the width, Raheem Sterling bringing the incision, Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan sprayed the ball around the Etihad. Even when the tempo dipped in the second half, it was too much for Newcastle to handle.
The mood in the stands, supportive from the outset, felt like it had been helped by the result at Anfield the previous evening. That knowledge that City were no longer in a win or bust scenario took a little of the sting out of the fixture and gave them some freedom.
It was all that they needed. Away games against Wolves and West Ham might not be straightforward. But four points from those two fixtures will now be enough to ensure that City can return here on the final day knowing victory will guarantee them the title.