Preston realistically have a very slim chance of beating Manchester City, but their defensive crisis may give some fans hope.
City were swept aside by an injury-ravaged, newly-promoted Norwich City side on Saturday, losing 3-2 at Carrow Road. It was a result that few could have expected, but there was plenty of encouragement for other teams.
City players were static for Kenny McLean’s opener, with zonal marking from a corner failing them. Their defensive line was caught all over the place near the halfway line, allowing Teemu Pukki to break through and find Todd Cantwell for 2-0.
Sergio Aguero pulled one back, but City’s fragility showed up again. Nicolas Otamendi dallied on the ball just yards from his own goal, and Pukki subsequently scored from Emi Buendia’s pass.
City have been hit twice at the back recently, with Vincent Kompany leaving this summer. Then, Aymeric Laporte suffered a significant knee injury, ruling him out for six months.
Remarkably, those woes have continued today. John Stones has picked up a muscular injury in training today, and will now miss up to five weeks. That means both he and Laporte will miss the trip to Preston in the Carabao Cup next week, with Pep Guardiola’s options disappearing.
It’s clear that he doesn’t even really fancy Otamendi and Stones as a partnership, but now he’ll be left with makeshift alternatives. He could shift Kyle Walker to centre back with Joao Cancelo at right back. Fernandinho can drop back to play at centre back, or teenager Eric Garcia could be fast-tracked into the team.
They’re all still talented players, but it’s not ideal for City to be in this state so early into the season. It’s almost remarkable that a team with so much money has been left so short at a key position.
North End may now be licking their lips. Norwich have already shown how to get at City, exposing Guardiola’s men with confident passing and movement, beating their press before attacking the below-par defenders.
City will still be heavy favourites to win at Deepdale, but there is a frailty to be targeted. North End have played with great flexibility and movement in the final third of late, with the likes of Josh Harrop, Seani Maguire, Billy Bodin and Tom Barkhuizen all interchanging in front three roles.
That could at least cause City some problems, and the news of Stones’ injury isn’t only a blow for City, but something of a boost for North End too as they chase an unlikely cup upset.