On Tuesday night, reigning European champions Manchester City continue the defence of their crown with the first leg of a round of 16 tie away to Copenhagen. Pep Guardiola’s men arrive in Denmark as overwhelming favourites, with Opta giving them an enormous 93.9% chance of progressing to the quarterfinals.
However, Guardiola will remind his players that Premier League rivals Manchester United lost 4-3 at the Parken Stadium, while Bayern Munich required a late winner after falling behind. They still can’t afford any complacency.
City have recently been boosted by multiple injury comebacks, with record-breaking Golden Boot winner Erling Haaland starting his first Premier League game of 2024 against Brentford last week. Haaland would then get back on the scoresheet by netting a late double against Everton at the weekend.
Kevin de Bruyne is fully fit again too, and John Stones and Manuel Akanji have returned to strengthen the defence. But just when Guardiola thought he was operating with a clean bill of health, he’s been hit by a couple of setbacks elsewhere.
Gvardiol misses training before Copenhagen
Writing on X/Twitter, journalist Tyrone Marshall said he’s taken a “look at the footage” from City’s training session before Copenhagen and spotted that Josko Gvardiol was absent.
It’s since been confirmed by the club that Gvardiol isn’t part of the travelling party heading to Copenhagen, and the same is true of compatriot Mateo Kovacic, who plays in midfield.
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City paid £77m to sign Gvardiol from RB Leipzig during last summer’s transfer window, making him the second-most expensive defender in football history behind £80m Man Utd man Harry Maguire.
He’s since made 27 appearances for the club, starting three of their six Champions League group games and 16 of their 23 Premier League matches, including nine in a row before he dropped to the bench against Everton last weekend. Perhaps fitness concerns played a part in that decision.
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He is open to a move to the Etihad this summer.
The stats suggest that Gvardiol is one of the most impactful players in both the City squad and the league as a whole – he’s averaged the sixth-highest points per appearance, and the third-highest at the Etihad Stadium behind Rodri and Nathan Ake.
Premier League player
Points per match
“We knew he was an incredible person,” Guardiola said in November. “That is what I look for first. He can play centre back, We decided to play him in a back four and play at full-back offensively and defensively. He is incredibly open minded to see what we want to do. At every training session he is an incredible professional.”
Given their aforementioned margin of superiority, City should be able to cope without Gvardiol on Tuesday, but the bigger concern may be whether he’s available for upcoming Premier League games in the heat of the title race. City host Chelsea at the weekend before playing their game in hand against Brentford the following midweek.