Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has confirmed key defender John Stones will not play against Manchester United in a crunch derby clash on Saturday.
Despite recent back-to-back wins over Chelsea in the FA Cup and Premier League, City are looking to bounce back from one of their worst performances to date under Guardiola when they were dumped out of the Carabao Cup by Southampton in midweek.
The reigning Premier League champions are already without Ruben Dias at the back and have suffered a slump in form that has also seen them drop points against Brentford and Everton since the start of November and fall behind Arsenal in the developing title race.
The loss of Stones brings more pressure against a much-improved Manchester United.
“[Stones] is not ready. I think everyone else is fit,” Guardiola said on Friday.
Stones has been an important player for City this season, starting almost every Premier League game when fit. His absence now means Guardiola may turn to Aymeric Laporte for the first time in a league game since the World Cup, or even keep Kyle Walker at centre-back.
Guardiola appeared to hint City were not sufficiently prepared to face Southampton, while Ilkay Gundogan questioned the desire and the hunger in the squad following the defeat.
The City boss insists he is not concerned about any lingering hangover from that one.
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“Normal preparation for a game,” he said.
“City fans cannot complain what this team is able to do, have done, do and will do. We cannot talk on behalf of the fans, they are brilliant. I know what they think.
“What happened didn’t surprise me, it happened. It happens because we do four Premier League titles in five years. Sometimes this competition shows me in terms of consistency what we have to do. This is our strength in previous seasons.
“After back-to-back [titles] two times, this could happen. We are not ready to go there and be ourselves. Not talking about winning the Carabao Cup or winning games, be ourselves. I was a little concerned it could happen, I don’t know if it will happen again.”