Pep Guardiola insists he has no doubts over the quality of Cole Palmer as he looks for ways to cover for the absence of Kevin De Bruyne, who could be out for up to five months with a hamstring injury.
De Bruyne is due to go under the knife in his native Belgium after pulling up early in City’s Premier League opener at Burnley last Friday, and City had to do without their talisman in Wednesday’s UEFA Super Cup final against Sevilla, prevailing in a penalty shootout.
Palmer started on the right wing in Athens and scored City’s equaliser just after the hour mark, following up his fine strike against Arsenal in the Community Shield, but that has not stopped speculation linking the 21-year-old academy product with a move away.
As Guardiola revealed fears that De Bruyne may not return to full fitness until February, he said Palmer and others will need to provide the answers.
“It’s not necessary to ask how good he is,” Guardiola said of Palmer. “You don’t need two goals in two finals to define how good he is.
“Cole in the previous season arrived in an extraordinary moment, he defined the game in the FA Cup and then had injuries. He couldn’t be there.
“Playing at City is not easy with Riyad (Mahrez, now departed), Bernardo (Silva) and a lot of players.
“Last season our players in midfield were KDB, who will be four or five months out, (Ilkay Gundogan) who isn’t here, we have to adjust a few things. We’re not at our best, or our top, it’s normal and we adjust a few things but the spirit is there.”
John Stones has been added to the injury list for Saturday’s match at home to Newcastle after sustaining a muscular injury in training, while Bernardo remains out through illness, but Guardiola expressed optimism that Ruben Dias could return after missing the Super Cup final.
Following a late night in Athens on Wednesday and the journey home, Guardiola said his players would not train on Friday but instead focus on recovery with massage and sessions in the pool.
“Of course we are ready,” Guardiola said. “We need these types of challenges. Everyone wants to beat us and we have difficulties for many reasons, many important injuries, the calendar.
“It’s a challenge again, to see if we can make a step forward. If you want to win you need that.
“In football there are always problems, it’s how you overcome that defines if you’re a good team or not…
“We went to bed at 4am, arrived here late, today we cannot train – everyone in the pool, massage – we don’t have time.
“We’d love one more day. We accept that this is the challenge. It’s why we won: we overcome these kind of positions. We always had less time to recover.”
Guardiola has his eyes on winning the Club World Cup in December to “take all the titles” after last season’s treble and the Super Cup win, and said recent successes can inspire his players as they deal with the challenges in front of them.
“The spirit is there,” he said. “I know how happy they are. Every day we arrive and see the four trophies in front of us. Wow, how nice is that? How difficult is that? We love it.”
On Friday evening, De Bruyne posted a short message on social media following his surgery with a picture of him on crutches.
“The news after the Burnley game was a really big blow for me physically and mentally,” the Belgian said.
“Now the surgery is done I’m ready to heal my body and get back to work soon. Thank you all for the support.”