City lacking usual spark amid injuries, fixture pile-up

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AFP

Manchester City's Riyad Mahrez reacts during the English Premier League soccer match between West Ham and Manchester City, at the London Olympic Stadium Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. (Justin Tellis, Pool via AP)

Manchester City’s weary players boarded a plane to France on Monday, the southern city of Marseille being the latest stop on their gruelling and seemingly interminable fixture schedule in a pandemic-disrupted season like no other.

There will have been no senior strikers on the flight, with Sergio Aguero injured again and joining Gabriel Jesus back in the treatment room.

Star midfielder Kevin De Bruyne will be on board, recently back from injury and fresh from protestations about the workload being forced on soccer players this season.

Whether Aymeric Laporte, City’s defensive lynchpin, will play in the Champions League match at the Stade Velodrome on Tuesday is in the balance after his run of fitness issues.

“I try to demand everything from my players,” City manager Pep Guardiola said at the weekend, “but there is a limit for human beings.”

Sympathy is usually in short supply when it comes to Man City and the debate over workload and fixture congestion.

“It’s the richest club in the world,” is a typical retort. And most would say it’s a perfectly reasonable one, given City spent more than 100 million pounds ($130 million) on two center backs in the offseason, one of whom is purely seen a back-up.

Yet, it is hard to escape the fact that City’s performances have rarely looked flatter and more predictable under Guardiola than they have since the start of the season.