Man City could have four 'new signings' when Premier League returns
Manchester City returned to training this weekend, with no apparent new injury concerns to worry Pep Guardiola.by Joe Bray, https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/authors/joe-bray/
It's a lazy football cliché to describe a player returning from injury as being 'like a new signing.'
But when Manchester City re-start their Premier League season, they could be boosted by four fully fit players who have had their fair share of struggles with injury this season.
Leroy Sane hasn't played since the Community Shield in August, while Aymeric Laporte has only played three times since returning from his own long-term lay-off, with each appearance designed to continue his rehabilitation as the first priority, rather than place too much responsibility on his performance.
The pair were two of the most important members of City's 2018/19 title-winning squad, especially during the 14-game winning streak that was needed to see off the brilliant challenge from Liverpool.
So to see Sane and Laporte in good spirits and running freely as City returned to training this weekend was a welcome sight for Pep Guardiola as he devises a plan to navigate what will be a condensed Premier League fixture schedule alongside FA Cup and Champions League campaigns.
Laporte's return as City's best centre-back will hopefully improve Guardiola's troublesome defence as they go in search for two more trophies, and Sane could be the extra bit of quality needed to turn a draw into a win, or a nervy win into a comfortable one.
Then there is John Stones, who has failed to take the chance to claim a centre-back spot as his own this season in Laporte's absence.
Stones, through a mixture of poor form and his own injury struggles, has had a disappointing campaign, and has even been left out of the matchday squad for some of City's most important fixtures.
Pictures: Man City squad return to training for first time in two months
But in a recent interview, Stones admitted that on reflection, he knows he needed to improve. So during the lockdown and suspension of Premier League football, it's refreshing to hear that he has been putting in the hard work to improve his core fitness in an attempt to cut out those niggling injuries.
"This season has been frustrating for me injury-wise," Stones said. "Coming back from injury, getting re-injured, things like that. So I've used this time really to take a step back and see where I can do more in terms of off the pitch like gym work, strength work. As soon as we stopped, I went straight into the gym, didn't stop and started on the little things.
"Two months in now I feel brilliant. I can see where I've come from with my co-ordination, my strength and things like that. You get wrapped up when you're playing thinking 'yeah, I feel fit' but you've not done the work off the pitch for your body to sustain it when you're playing.
"So it's kind of been an eye-opener for me in a way I wouldn't have looked at it before. Taking that step back and realising I've got to do more - not only more for me but for my teammates and for my own career as well to be able to be selected to play."
Stones' new outlook won't just benefit City when it comes to keeping him out of the physio room, it could be the turning point they have waited for to spark a revival in the defender's form.
Similarly, Stones' fellow defender Benjamin Mendy is in need of a wake-up call, following another injury-interrupted season.
Incredibly, Mendy has only played 46 times for City in three seasons, and has only played more than three Premier League games in a row on two occasions - the last time coming two years ago.
Clearly talented and a player who can add extra firepower to City's attack from full-back, Mendy needs his own eye-opener, like Stones.
The Frenchman has hopefully used the lockdown period to work on his own fitness, and like Stones, that could be a game-changer for his, and City's fortunes.