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Even by Pep’s standards, winning comfortably with no centre-backs is quite something

If you needed any further proof that Pep Guardiola is a quixotic madman, just look at what happened on Saturday.

Man City, the title in danger of slipping further out of their grasp after that shock defeat to Wolves before the international break, needed a result.

Centre-back has been a real issue for the champions this season with injuries ravaging Aymeric Laporte and John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi fluffing his lines.


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Yet another maverick manoeuvre

AFP or licensors
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Yet another maverick manoeuvre

So what does Pep do?

Take centre-backs out of the equation altogether.

More than a few eyebrows were raised when he paired Rodri and Fernandinho together at the back for the trip to Crystal Palace.

Zaha was kept relatively quiet

Reuters
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Zaha was kept relatively quiet

But if this was an audition for a longer, short-term solution to their centre-back injury woes, the duo passed it with flying colours.

“I decided to use alternatives,” Pep said in the aftermath of the comfortable 2-0 win.

“I thank them both for that. It’s not easy to play in different positions and Rodri did not train for even one day in that position.

“It’s not easy doing that. They did really well with the threat of Christian Benteke and Wilfried Zaha.

“And our build-up play was quicker because they have more intelligence – they pass the ball so well because they are central midfielders.”

Rodri had never played centre-back before

Reuters
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Rodri had never played centre-back before

Both are physically imposing and strong in the tackle, but both also showed better positional awareness than Otamendi whose blunders in recent weeks have been so costly.

Palace aren’t exactly prolific at home, but City controlled the game and restricted the hosts to slim pickings from open play.

By playing Rodri and Fernandinho further back, the visitors essentially had five central midfielders on the field to overwhelm the Eagles.

Fernandinho has all the credentials to slot in at centre-back

PA:Press Association
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Fernandinho has all the credentials to slot in at centre-back

So is this a sign of things to come?

Pep has form with weird and wacky formations, transforming one of the best full backs of all time in Philipp Lahm into an astute holding midfielder at Bayern Munich.

Javi Martinez went the other way, moving from midfield to central defence in Bavaria as Pep looked to utilise his physical strengths.

Rodri is certainly a player in the Martinez mould and, despite his lack of experience in the role, looks a far better option than Otamendi right now.

Otamendi has already made two high profile errors this season

EPA
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Otamendi has already made two high profile errors this season

City’s defence of their title can’t be taken seriously if the ailing Argentine continues to play, he is that much of a liability.

Even Stones has come in for criticism too, his form not quite the same since that mistake for England against the Netherlands in the Nations League.

Circumstances meant Pep had to think outside the box and the ‘bald fraud’ delivered a stroke of genius yet again.

Sterner tests will come, but this might be a recipe for success until Laporte returns.