City ready for stiff Watford test as Reds take on Blues - GulfToday

City ready for stiff Watford test as Reds take on Blues

Mohamed-Salah

Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (right) and Dejan Lovren at a recent team training session.

Fernandinho stepped seamlessly into Manchester City’s backline in midweek to ease Pep Guardiola’s defensive woes but the Premier League champions know their stretched resources will be tested by a physical Watford side on Saturday.

The clubs last met in the FA Cup final in May, with City romping to a 6-0 victory to complete the first-ever domestic treble in English football history.

But just four months later Guardiola, whose side are already five points behind Jurgen Klopp’s rampant Liverpool, is facing a serious headache at the back, with Aymeric Laporte and John Stones out for significant spells.

Frenchman Laporte, described as the best left-sided defender in Europe by Guardiola, is out until at least February after injuring knee ligaments in the recent win over Brighton.

That left Stones, whose start to the season was hampered by injury, as the only specialist centre-half left to partner Nicolas Otamendi, a player who has not been an automatic first choice for some time.

England defender Stones, however, suffered a muscle injury in training and reports suggest he could be out for four to five weeks.

Now City face Watford, and new manager Quique Sanchez Flores, with only Otamendi as a fit, specialist central defender.

Watford are bottom of the league but come into the match buoyant after recovering from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 against Arsenal.

At least Guardiola has a ready-made solution, with defensive midfielder Fernandinho playing at centre-back for the midweek visit to Shakhtar Donetsk, where City won 3-0.

Meanwhile, Jurgen Klopp says Liverpool have not changed their defensive approach despite their record of only one clean sheet in their eight games so far this season. The European champions are five points clear at the top of the Premier League after five straight wins but the backline has been breached in four of those matches.

And two late goals conceded in Naples in midweek meant their Champions League campaign started in disappointing fashion.

Klopp, whose side travel to Frank Lampard’s Chelsea on Sunday, was asked about the importance of Virgil van Dijk and whether he had concerns about any potential injuries ruling the Dutchman out for a period of time.

“That’s the reason why we have four centre-halves,” he said.

Elsewhere Manchester United coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer expects to be without Martial for Sunday’s match away to West Ham, along with Paul Pogba and Luke Shaw.

United, fourth in the Premier League table, could also be missing Wales winger James, who missed the match against Astana with a knock sustained in last week’s victory against Leicester.

Defensive problems have dogged United during their winless away run that stretches back to the shock victory at Paris Saint-Germain in March but Solskjaer said he was relaxed.

Solskjaer meanwhile is not concerned by Marcus Rashford’s recent lack of goals, pointing to the Manchester United forward’s hunger and determination to improve.

Solskjaer has spoken of his desire for the 21-year-old to score more goals but is not worried that the academy graduate has netted just once from open play in eight appearances for club and country this season.

Elsewhere, Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham travel to Leicester on Saturday already seven points off Premier League leaders Liverpool having won just two of their opening six games to the season.

After blowing a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 away to Olympiakos in their Champions League opener on Wednesday, Harry Kane bemoaned the lack of maturity from a squad that should have been hardened by the progress made during Pochettino’s five years in charge.

“We’re not young any more, we’re not inexperienced,” said the England captain. “We’ve played in big games for club and country.

“I can see why the manager is frustrated because he’s been here for six years now and we’re still making similar mistakes to the ones we were in his first year.

Agence France-Presse

English Premier League fixtures: (all times 18 GMT unless otherwise specified)

On Saturday: Leicester City vs Tottenham; Burnley FC vs Norwich City; Everton vs Sheffield United; Manchester City vs Watford; Newcastle vs Brighton; West Ham vs Manchester United

On Sunday: Crystal Palace vs Wolves (17 GMT); Arsenal vs Aston Villa (19.30 GMT); Cheslea vs Liverpool