By Alex Fisher at the Etihad Stadium
In a week where all the talk was over whether he'd play three or four at the back, Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini now has a new headache to deal with as his side’s defensive injury crisis deepened after Micah Richards was stretchered off in their victory over Swansea City.
City may have extended their unbeaten home run to 34 games but the injury to Richards will be a crushing blow to Mancini as he now has no fit recognised right-back in his multi-million pound squad.
The Italian revealed the extent of his defender’s problem during his post-match press conference: "He [Richards] has a problem in his knee, but I don’t know the situation. I hope [it is not bad] but I don’t know."
Richards’ departure meant Kolo Toure filled in at right-back but the 31-year-old is not, and never will be, comfortable at full-back. Toure may well be the only option for Mancini, however, with Pablo Zabaleta sidelined with a hamstring injury, Maicon struggling with an injured foot since the defeat to Real Madrid in mid-September and now Richards expecting more time in the treatment room.
It is not just at full-back that things look bad for City, however. The rock solid central defence of last season is long gone. The previously dependable Vincent Kompany has not replicated the form of yesteryear, and Mancini appears undecided on who his partner should be with Joleon Lescott and Matija Nastasic taking turns alongside the Belgian.
The clean sheet against Swansea was only their second of the season but don’t let that fool you into thinking City were water tight at the back, far from it, they gifted Michu two glorious chances and had to rely on Joe Hart to make excellent saves to deny the Spaniard. Mancini needs to settle on his defensive line-up and stick to it if City are to hang on to the coat tails of league leaders Chelsea.
Unlike Ajax, Swansea failed to capitalise on the defensive problems but one man who will be rubbing his hands with glee is West Ham manager Sam Allardyce whose side face City next weekend. The Hammers may be Premier League newcomers this season but with weaknesses across the back four they will look to expose City’s frailties with plenty of crosses from Matt Jarvis towards Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan.
As for Richards this new injury setback will be a crushing blow to the full-back who has only just got himself back into the City starting line-up after suffering an ankle injury whilst playing for Team GB in the London Olympics. The club's youth academy graduate has only managed three games for City this season, and this setback will be a crushing blow for the 24-year-old.
Richards has also been out of contention for the national team for 10 months and with friendlies against Sweden on the horizon this injury may end any hopes he had of making Roy Hodgson’s squad.
City are still unbeaten in the Premier League but many of their fans will freely admit that they have had the rub of the green at times this season, relying on their prolific strike force to get them out of trouble. And as the injury list grows there should be concerns at the Etihad Stadium that they need to find their defensive strength of last season if they are to stay in contention in the Premier League.
Follow Alex Fisher on