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It might not have been pretty, but the 2-0 win over Watford on Wednesday night was exactly what Manchester City needed. The questions about the manner in which the team is playing at the moment will remain, but there were some answers given to issues over the defence.
The victory though came at a cost. Ilkay Gundogan, a player whom manager Pep Guardiola would have been planning to use extensively over the Christmas period suffered a serious injury. The German was involved in a rather innocuous challenge with Nordin Amrabat late in the first half and fell awkwardly and despite a valiant effort to carry on; he was substituted just before the break.
The Etihad applauded him off, but few will have realized the impact his absence could have on the team. He was in tears leaving the field and looked distraught. It’s unusual for a manager to state how seriously a player is injured in a post-match news conference, normally relying on that handy go-to phrase:
“We’ll see in the morning.”
“We spoke with him and he said, ‘I want to try, I want to try’,” Guardiola said afterwards, explaining why he didn’t make the substitution far sooner than he did. “When he [put his] hands up and said, ‘I cannot follow him’, we expect it’s not good.”
It is the former Borussia Dortmund player’s second serious knee injury of the year having dislocated the patella of the same joint playing basketball prior to joining City last spring. He consequently missed the first six games of the season for his new club.
The club said in a statement:
“Manchester City can confirm Ilkay Gundogan has sustained a cruciate knee ligament injury. Gundogan will now be assessed further to discover the exact extent of his injury.”
However, it is likely that the box-to-box midfielder will sit out for the rest of the campaign. The £20million signing has made 16 appearances for City, scoring five goals, and seems to have settled in well. Therefore it could come as a huge blow for Guardiola who would now have to use once out of favor Yaya Toure in Gundogan’s absence.
Toure is back in the first-team reckoning after being frozen out by Guardiola earlier in the campaign following a spat with the Ivorian’s agent.
Toure was left out of City’s Champions League squad for the group stages but could be reinstated for the knockout rounds. Guardiola stated,
“Now he has come back I have seen him play like he can and he was (doing) when I met him in Barcelona. He’s a player with no doubt about his quality.”
There’s no question about his ability with the ball at his feet — his range of passing, vision, and manner in dictating play are all still there, however his legs aren’t able to carry him the way they used to.
“Now in this moment he is maybe going to have more minutes than before. That’s why you have a squad big enough.” added the City boss.
City fans will be worrying about the Germany international’s injury record, too. Pablo Zabaleta confirmed after the game that the suspected ligament damage was to the same knee Gundogan had dislocated in May, forcing him to undergo surgery and miss the Euro 2016.