Pep Guardiola believes Manchester City are going through their toughest spell of the campaign in terms of injuries and suggested he will be without Aymeric Laporte, John Stones and Gabriel Jesus until after the March international break.
The Premier League champions remained a point behind leaders Liverpool on Wednesday after Sergio Aguero’s second-half penalty secured a 1-0 win over West Ham.
City headed into the game without influential defensive midfielder Fernandinho, who suffered a groin injury during last Sunday’s EFL Cup final triumph against Chelsea.
Laporte was substituted at half-time at Wembley due to a hamstring complaint and joined fellow centre-back Stones (groin), striker Jesus (hamstring) and utility man Fabian Delph on the sidelines.
It meant Guardiola named Benjamin Mendy on the bench versus West Ham, despite not being fully fit, alongside rookie defender Philippe Sandler.
“The players have to adapt to that,” Guardiola told reporters when discussing the impact of Fernandinho’s absence amid a run of games that continues with Saturday’s Premier League trip to Bournemouth.
“Fabian Delph could play there but is injured again. Of course, Gundo [Ilkay Gundogan] played in that position many times last season and this season so it is normal that he can help us for the next games.
“Mendy is on the bench but the doctors say he is not completely ready; Philippe Sandler was there – a young, young player.
“We do not have too many players right now. It is the toughest moment of the season in terms of injuries.
“But, at the same time, we have enough players to compete. Hopefully we can make a good performance at Bournemouth and then we have one week to prepare the last game [Watford at home] in the Premier League for 21 days [before] focusing on [Champions League and FA Cup games against] Schalke and Swansea.
“That’s why it is a real final for us, the game at Bournemouth, to arrive [in a good position] after the international break when the people come back – like John, like Ayme, like Gabriel.
“When you play every three days in April it is incredibly demanding and we need everybody to fight for all the titles.”
Former City favourite Pablo Zabaleta was granted a rousing reception when he came on as a second-half substitute for West Ham and hopes his old employers can complete a clean sweep of trophies.
“I hope Manchester City [can lift the title], I wish they can win it but I know it is going to be tough,” Zabaleta told Sky Sports.
“Liverpool look like they are also very focused on the Premier League, so it looks like it’s going to be between Manchester City and Liverpool until the end
“But obviously all I wish is Manchester City to win. They have three competitions to play for and hopefully they can win all of them.”
Reflecting upon the whole ground chanting his name, even as the game remained on a knife edge, Zabaleta added: “It was really special and I always appreciate the love from Manchester City fans.
“I spent nine seasons at the club, so it was a really nice moment and it’s always special to come back to the Etihad. And I also wish them all the best until the end of the season.”