Manchester City were dealt a major blow in their hopes of Champions League progression in the first half of their last 16 showdown with Real Madrid at the Bernabeu on Wednesday night after Aymeric Laporte was forced off injured.
Centre-back Laporte started alongside Nicolas Otamendi at the heart of City’s defence as they sought to take an advantage back to the Etihad for the second leg next month.
But their hopes of doing so were dealt a blow when Laporte was forced off following a melee inside the box.
The Frenchman was notably despondent on his way off the pitch, although perhaps positively for City he walked off himself rather than needing to be stretchered off.
Laporte has only made seven Premier League appearances this season after suffering a cruciate knee ligament injury against Brighton in August.
He returned to top-flight action on January 21 in a win at Sheffield United, helping to keep a clean sheet while also keeping shut-outs in wins over West Ham and Leicester since then.
This was his first European appearance of the season, but it ended abruptly, and City will hope the defender’s issue is not too serious to sideline him for a sustained period once again.
And just minutes later, Ilkay Gundogan was down in pain – though he quickly recovered to continue and spare City a quickfire double blow.
Pep Guardiola’s men went into the break 0-0 with Sergio Ramos having had to clear off his line before the break.
Ederson denied Karim Benzema’s header with an excellent low stop before then.
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Guardiola had been forced to deny reports that Laporte was injured heading into this clash after he was substituted off after 57 minutes of the win over Leicester at the weekend.
The Catalan said: “He asked me to be subbed. He’s not injured.
“We cannot forget he has been out for four or five months injured. They run a lot, [Jamie] Vardy, Kelechi [Iheanacho], [Harvey] Barnes, they are all so fast.
“It was quite different against West Ham [on Wednesday] where they was only one striker so it was easier to control, but he’s OK.”
Laporte’s absence this season has been sorely felt in the Premier League. City trail rivals Liverpool by 22 points with 11 games of the season remaining.
The Citizens, back-to-back champions, are all-but certain to relinquish their domestic crown having lost six matches this term, as many as they have in their two previous campaigns combined.
City have conceded 29 goals in 27 matches this term, despite having kept clean sheets in all three matches Laporte has played in since his injury return.
By contrast, last term they conceded just 23 times in 38 top-flight outings with ex-Athletic Bilbao centre-half Laporte featuring in 35 of those.
Speaking back in October, goalkeeper Ederson admitted the City squad missed the quality of their star defender.
He said: “It’s very difficult for a team like us having injuries, especially if they all happen in the same position on the pitch.
“We all know about the amazing quality of Aymeric and how good he is in the build-up phase. Of course we are missing him.
“We have other great players who can replace him in that position.
“Unfortunately, with the injury to John Stones, we have only one natural centre-back.
“I think the team needs to be mentally strong to carry on playing and winning in the championship.”
Even if the issue is not serious, Laporte’s facial expression suggests he is likely to at least miss Sunday’s Carabao Cup final with Aston Villa at Wembley Stadium.
After that City take on Championship outfit Sheffield Wednesday in the fifth round of the FA Cup next Wednesday before a Manchester derby showdown with Manchester United at Old Trafford a week on Sunday.
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