Pep Guardiola’s Man City philosophy will be put to the test.

The Manchester City manager preaches the benefits of a small squad but Rodri’s withdrawal from international duty will stretch his team further.

OPINIONPep Guardiola faces biggest test of Man City philosophy

The Manchester City manager preaches the benefits of a small squad but Rodri’s withdrawal from international duty will stretch his team further.

Pep Guardiola will be praying for no more injuries during the international break. (Image: Robin Jones/Getty Images)

Rodri became the latest – and perhaps most concerning – Manchester City player to withdraw from international duty on Thursday after missing Spain’s 3-1 win over Cyprus.

Spanish media reported that the midfielder had felt some ‘discomfort’ in the build-up that forced him to pull out, the suggestion being that with two favourable fixtures ahead and qualification for Euro 2024 already secure, it wasn’t worth the risk. But that will be scant comfort for Pep Guardiola.

The City manager had already seen four players withdraw from international duty this week, with Nathan Ake, Ederson, Mateo Kovacic and Matheus Nunes all succumbing to injury. John Stones, Joe Gomez and Kevin De Bruyne are also long-term absentees.

As it stands, Guardiola could have just 13 fit outfield players to welcome back from the break and there is no worse time to be in such a predicament. City host Liverpool in a battle of the Premier League’s top two next Saturday before welcoming Tottenham to the Etihad the following weekend – not to mention the Champions League clash against RB Leipzig in between.

City have always had a small squad during Guardiola’s tenure, the Catalan opting to keep things tight-knit and avoid discontent among idle players. It’s a squad philosophy he took on from Marcelo Bielsa and has remained loyal to throughout his career.

“I like to work with not many players and have everyone involved,” Guardiola said last year. “It is what it is. We have shown in the last years we have a small squad and we are there in the last stages.”

Five Premier League titles in six years, including last season’s title as part of a historic treble, would suggest that Guardiola has got it right on that front. But rarely has the philosophy been tested as much during seven-and-a-bit years at the Etihad.

Luckily for Guardiola – and this is taking glass half full to the extreme – fitness issues are spread across the squad in terms of position. A worst case scenario would see City without one goalkeeper, three defenders and four midfielders with all areas still stocked up with world-class talent.

Guardiola regularly rotates his players from game to game and the area in which changes are most common – in attack – remains in good health. Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez are continuing to dovetail, Phil Foden is getting the goals to back his performances and Jeremy Doku is providing healthy competition for Jack Grealish.

But City are thinly spread at the moment and any further stretching could cause problems. Guardiola will be minded to wrap his players in cotton wool, meanwhile

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