This season for Manchester City the problem has not been results.
Seven successive victories in all competitions have put the club top of the Premier League and in control of its Champions League group.
But these on-field successes have masked a mounting problem off it.
For it’s most recent European encounter with Red Star Belgrade the Citizens were unable to fill the full quota of substitutes and had just six outfield players on the bench.
The scarcity of fit players was made worse during the game itself with Bernardo Silva leaving the field before half time due to injury.
In the aftermath, manager Pep Guardiola refused to complain about his plight but acknowledged the situation was far from ideal.
“We are in trouble but I am not going to say ‘oh, we have a lot of injuries’. It is what it is,” he told the media.
“With the players we have, we will go for it. As long as we have that mentality, that is good.
“We have five really important players injured and to sustain that for a long time would be difficult.”
The Catalan was referring to first-team starters Mateo Kovacic, John Stones, Jack Grealish and Kevin De Bruyne who are all currently out.
However, ahead of the clash versus Nottingham Forest, the Catalan provided better news about two of those players.
“Jack [Grealish] is coming back, he has trained and maybe he can play some minutes. Kova is nearly back. But now we’ve lost Bernardo for a few days and John and Kevin are still out.”
Despite Guardiola’s unwillingness to complain, as ever where City are concerned, any perception the club could be complaining about a lack of resource is seized upon for criticism.
“Given the riches he has lavished on his squad, few neutrals will have sympathy for Guardiola,” was the generalized statement the BBC’s report on the injury crisis ran with.
Not that the broadcaster, which prides itself on editorial guidelines about impartiality, is alone in making such a claim.
Despite City selling Riyad Mahrez, Cole Palmer, Aymeric Laporte, Ilkay Gundogan and Joao Cancelo, the strength of its squad is still frequently discussed as being far more than its rivals.
As I have demonstrated previously, this perception was falsely fuelled last season by the Mancunians’ fortune in avoiding injuries. Statistics prove that a far more limited pool of players featured in the majority of games than the popular narrative dictates.
This season’s injury crisis appears to be, not unlike Liverpool who went to the finals of all four competitions in the previous campaign, the delayed impact of a 60-game schedule coming to fruition.
“A lot of games. Less games, less injuries,” Guardiola added, “a lot of games in a row, not much rest. This is just that. We demand a lot of effort, sometimes we cannot sustain it. Jack in Sheffield suffered an incredible knock to his knee, it happens. But muscular injuries mean you miss a lot of games.”
World Cup Impact
All of City’s current absentees have one thing in common; their season was extended significantly by the mid-season World Cup in which all but Jack Grealish were regular starters for their countries.
That they have finally got injured should come as little surprise. In March research by player’s union FIFPRO in conjunction with Football Benchmark found more than half of its members felt they were exposed to increased risk of injury by the tournament.
It’s general secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann said: “Our ongoing research provides new evidence of the excessive demands on elite players. We are now observing a growing awareness among players about the harmful effects these pressures have on their performance, careers, and personal lives.
“They realize that their match calendar is not sustainable, affects their mental and physical health, and leaves them exposed, and without any protection, to an accelerated cycle of poorly coordinated competitions.”
The bad news for Baer-Hoffmann is that the demands on players are only going to get more intense.
A new Champions League format next year promises two extra games in the group stage which ensures a greater number of clashes between the biggest sides, whilst the next edition of the World Cup will feature more teams and games.
This is all in addition to an expanded 32-team FIFA Club World Cup launching in 2025.
“The current discussions on the match calendar and competition design for the period from 2024 continue to give priority to commercial objectives over the basic health and safety of elite players,” the FIFPRO leader complained.
“Expanded competition formats announced by competition organizers for club and national teams underline the growing cannibalization of the match calendar. Those same competition organizers also carry a responsibility as regulators of the game.
“Despite contrary assurances, we are extremely worried players will continue to be the last consideration in forthcoming decisions.”
For a club like Manchester City seeking to progress in all the competitions it enters the potential total number of games starts approach 80.
Given most of the players are internationals if they play in a tournament year the number of games starts getting worryingly close to a century.
Maybe when the effects of this start to bear out soccer will wake up to the impact this number of games has on the stars it relies on, but you wouldn’t bet on it.