By Jack Gaughan for the Daily Mail
Published: 22:56 BST, 1 September 2019 | Updated: 23:05 BST, 1 September 2019
Manchester City cannot say they weren't warned. The first half of a snoozy friendly in Hong Kong was suddenly punctuated by a problem with Aymeric Laporte. He writhed in agony after a heavy blow, his reaction prompting a collective intake of breath.
Nicolas Otamendi had not yet returned from the Copa America. The only option on the bench was 17-year-old Taylor Harwood-Bellis.
Laporte ended up being fine - nothing more than a bump - but those tense few moments highlighted City's precarious central defensive situation.
Aymeric Laporte's injury has left Manchester City desperately short of centre-back options
Laporte suffered what appeared to be a serious knee injury in the 4-0 win over Brighton
Those fears were realised against Brighton, 37 minutes into another procession and on a day that Pep Guardiola's champions took their goal tally to 14 in four matches. Laporte was again writhing on the floor but this time it was altogether more serious.
The knee injury he sustained when clattering Adam Webster looks problematic, with Guardiola worried someone he described as the 'best left-sided defender in the world' is now facing months out. Laporte went to hospital after leaving the pitch on a stretcher and the extent of the damage will soon become clear.
Otamendi and John Stones are the only two senior centre halves left. Fernandinho, who replaced Laporte, plays there, too, although the Brazilian first started learning his new position just a fortnight ago. 'The key is to understand the concept of the way we have to play,' Fernandinho said. 'The movements and the pace we use in games.'
One of Guardiola's first declarations when taking the reins in 2016 was