Manchester City's Fernandinho faces Watford test

Manchester: 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. City appear to be paying the price for a curious strategy in the transfer market.

Over the past two years they have shown strong interest in Virgil van Dijk and Harry Maguire, only to baulk at paying what turned out to be world record transfer fees for defenders.

Given the vast wealth of the club's Abu Dhabi ownership, and the fact they have broken their own club transfer record in each of the past two summers, such caution when it comes to signing centre-halves seems curious.

Guardiola also famously spent big on three full-backs, Kyle Walker, Danilo and Benjamin Mendy, in a matter of days in 2017 which makes his, and City's, refusal to compete with Liverpool and United for centre-halves all the more baffling.

The upshot of their approach was that they failed to replace veteran club skipper Vincent Kompany, who returned to Belgium. City's refusal to go toe to toe with their rivals means they face Watford, and new manager Quique Sanchez Flores, with only Otamendi as a fit, specialist central defender.

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