Guardiola walks the walk on Garcia
Pep Guardiola said Eric Garcia and those around him had been made to feel how important he was to Manchester City amid strong interest from former club Barcelona – and that was seen in the teamsheet at Brighton.
John Stones had exactly the kind of uneventful night at Newcastle that any centre-back wants, and it felt like a natural progression to play him again on Saturday evening.
However, the manager instead opted to bring back Garcia and Aymeric Laporte for the fourth time in five possible games since the restart. That should be taken as a clear sign of where Garcia currently sits in the City pecking order, and follows comments from Guardiola that Fernandinho can now be used in midfield.
The 19-year-old in turn showed exactly why there is a fight for his future, calmly dealing with the physicality and pace of Aaron Connolly and earning a clean sheet.
Barcelona’s appeal to a player that came through their academy is obvious, but City are doing everything they can to show Garcia what his future can look like playing with this team.
This season has certainly been a learning curve for Rodri but he showed inside a minute at the Amex how he has improved.
His height gives the team extra potency in attack and his flick-on at the near post from a corner nearly presented his teammates with an excellent opportunity. There was no dwelling on that as the ball broke to the home team, and he raced back and cut out the danger before it could reach City’s box, nodding back to Ederson to defuse the threat.
There was the odd wobbly moment but overall he was excellent again, mopping up any threat that popped up in the City box and distributing well.
Laporte exorcises demons
It was against Brighton at home that everything went wrong for Laporte and City, the Frenchman suffering the injury that would put paid to the title defence and the majority of his season.
Helped by the delay to the campaign, the Frenchman now looks back to his sharpest again and had a comfortable evening as he racked up another clean sheet alongside Garcia.
If City are to have success in their knockout competitions this season, they will need Laporte at the heart of the defence. His fitness has also allowed Fernandinho to revert to midfield, with the veteran coming on to replace Rodri for the closing moments of the game.
De Bruyne frustration
It looked like a matter of when rather than if Kevin De Bruyne would break Thierry Henry’s assist record as football restarted. With ten games to go he needed four to equal the 20 milestone and five to pass it, having clocked 16 in the opening 28 fixtures.
With just three games to go, however, he is stranded on 18. City have scored a bundle of goals in the last month but they have been incredibly wasteful whenever De Bruyne has laid it on a plate for his teammates for the second successive game, he should have had at least a couple of assists.
Three remaining games with Bournemouth, Watford, and Norwich mean the record remains firmly in his grasp, but it should have been boxed off by now.