After a record-breaking title-winning campaign in 2017/18, Manchester City's defence of the Premier League title got off to the worst possible start this season. No, it doesn't have to do with results, but injuries to two key players.
The first person to be sidelined was Kevin De Bruyne - City's nearly-PFA-Player-of-the-Year from last season. Although Pep Guardiola has ample cover in his position with Bernardo Silva stepping up and young Phil Foden making a claim, it is the second injury that has the Catalan boss sweating.
Second-choice goalkeeper Claudio Bravo suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon during a training session last week and the injury will keep the 35-year-old shot stopper out of action for several months.
What Bravo's injury means for Manchester City's squad depth
With the Premier League transfer window closing on 9 August this season (for incoming players only), Guardiola cannot sign a replacement unless he is a free agent. This leaves only Ederson as City's senior goalkeeper in the squad.
City had taken a call to sell two of their other senior goalkeepers this summer. Joe Hart, who spent eight seasons as City's no.1, was eventually moved on after two loan spells in two seasons. Hart is now at Burnley who had a goalkeeper crisis of their own over the summer.
The other goalkeeper who would have taken Bravo's place had he not been sold was Angus Gunn, who made over 50 appearances for Norwich City in the Championship last season. But Gunn joined Southampton in July on a permanent deal.
That left City with only 20-year-old academy graduate Daniel Grimshaw as the backup goalkeeper while the club also recalled 19-year-old Aro Muric from his loan spell with NAC Breda. Muric only just made his professional debut in the Eredivisie before he was recalled.
The rule for emergency signings
Although Ederson started 37 league games and nine Champions League fixtures, Bravo was the first choice in the domestic cups; the FA Cup and the League Cup which City won thanks to Bravo's heroics in penalty shootouts in different rounds.
In a league as physical as the Premier League, starting the season with only Ederson is clearly a very risky move. One injury is all it takes to make City very vulnerable at the back.
The Premier League does allow clubs to make emergency loan signings - especially when teams have their goalkeepers injured. According to the rule:
If all the Professional Goalkeepers at a Club are unavailable as a result of having been:
- certified by an independent medical practitioner as being unfit to play;
- suspended; or
- called up to play for his national association representative matches in accordance with the requirements of FIFA as laid down from time to time,
a Club may register (either before or after the deadlines laid down in Regulations 43.2 and 43.3), a further goalkeeper on a short-term basis.
But the rule will not allow them to sign one now because Ederson is fit, as is Daniel Grimshaw. The key phrase is 'If all goalkeepers are unavailable...'
However, the PL's rules did allow City to recall a player who was sent on loan and that is how Muric has now become the third-choice goalkeeper.
What Pep Guardiola wants
The Manchester City manager was asked about his current situation and this is what he said.
“The rules are the rules so maybe the federation can think about that when there are long, long injuries and it is still the period where the European window is open.
"Then maybe you could do it. Not just for the goalkeeper but when there are big, big injuries to players.
“If we were not allowed to bring back Aro, I don’t know what would have happened. But here it is closed because it is good that the competition starts with the whole squad but maybe we could think about that, especially when the injuries are five or six months.” - Pep Guardiola
There has been a huge debate over the closure of the transfer window before the Premier League campaign began. It wasn't a unanimous vote but 14 clubs signed off on it to give it the two-thirds majority.
Although it allowed managers to have their final squad before the first game, it doesn't stop other European clubs from signing players from English clubs until their transfer window closes.
Serie A attempted to implement the same rule but their season got underway a week after the Premier League while LaLiga, Bundesliga, and Ligue 1 windows close on 31 August.
Is Guardiola right to ask for a change?
The last thing a wealthy club needs is the ability to stockpile players as and when they want. Thus, Guardiola's claim for changing the rules is a bit over the top and unwarranted.
With respect to the "European window", Guardiola probably has a point. But that is the only argument he can make and it is only the timing of Bravo's injury that has seen his plans come undone.
Being the manager of a club like City, Guardiola can literally afford to make claims about signing backup goalkeepers because they have the money to afford another player on their wage bill. Other smaller clubs may not be able to bring on board another player in such a scenario.
Moreover, this is the kind of "opportunity" that allows clubs to give their third-choice goalkeepers a chance. Besides, what is the point of having an Elite Development Squad (EDS) if the players who come through are not given a chance in the first team?
Grimshaw has been at the club since he was a child and he reached the UEFA Youth Cup semi-finals with the EDS last year. And City's director of football Txiki Begiristain had himself said Grimshaw would be promoted to the first team.
"He is a goalkeeper of great potential and has impressed Pep Guardiola and his coaching staff over the past two seasons with his hard work and progress.
"As a result of this, Daniel will be increasingly involved in the first team set up next season." - Txiki Begiristain in June
City's bench is usually an embarrassment of riches. Guardiola's show of naming less than seven substitutes last year against Burnley during a mini-injury crisis did not see anyone have pity either considering no new academy players were named in the matchday squad.
It's time to make do with what you have, Pep.Published 27 Aug 2018, 18:10 IST