Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola admitted Erling Haaland is a doubt for Wednesday’s top-of-the-table clash against Arsenal after coming off at half-time in a 3-1 win over Aston Villa.
City shrugged off the uncertainty caused by a series of Premier League charges to close to within three points of Arsenal at the top of the table.
But victory came at a cost as the Premier League’s leading goalscorer appeared to pick up a thigh injury as he clashed with Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.
“Haaland had a knock, he was uncomfortable,” said Guardiola. “At 3-0 we don’t want to take risks.
“We’ll see and assess in the next days. If he is not ready, we play another one. Hopefully he’s ready but we will see.”
A cloud is hanging over the English champions after the Premier League hit the club with more than 100 charges alleging breaches of financial rules dating as far back as 2009.
If found guilty, City could face a severe points deduction or even relegation from the top flight.
But Guardiola came out swinging in defence of the club’s hierarchy as he pointed the finger at jealous rivals for the accusations and his players followed him with a show of defiance on the field.
Rodri, Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez all struck before half-time at the Etihad to edge ominously into Arsenal’s rear-view mirror.
The Gunners still have a game in hand, but City will now move to the top of the table should they win at the Emirates in midweek.
Arsenal’s 1-1 draw at home to Brentford on Saturday opened the door for City and unlike last weekend, when the defending champions missed the chance to pounce with defeat away to Tottenham, this time they made no mistake.
Guardiola also learned his lesson from an experimental line-up at Spurs.
Ruben Dias, Aymeric Laporte, Kevin De Bruyne and Gundogan were restored to the starting line-up and City looked much more like their old selves.
The City support made their feelings known before kick-off as the Premier League anthem was booed and a banner raised saluting the lawyer the club have hired to defend the charges.
Just four minutes in they had something to cheer as Rodri rose highest to power home a header from Mahrez’s corner.
“It was not good enough from us collectively as a team,” said Villa’s goalscorer Ollie Watkins.
“Don’t get me wrong, they are world-class players but we were too soft, me especially when Rodri ran past me for that goal. I should have made the second block and I feel I let us down today.”
Haaland injury concern
Much had been made of City’s feeble surrender to Spurs last weekend and the Norwegian was a far more persistent threat in behind the Villa defence.
Haaland created the second as his pace beat Martinez to De Bruyne’s ball over the top and he picked out Gundogan at the far post for a simple finish.
Jack Grealish then lured Jacob Ramsey into a clumsy challenge to win a penalty, which Mahrez slotted home as Haaland surprisingly stepped aside.
That decision was perhaps explained by Haaland’s withdrawal at the break.
City’s defensive record will also be a concern for Guardiola as another clean sheet was ruined when Douglas Luiz robbed Bernardo Silva and freed Watkins to fire into the far corner on the hour mark.
Villa substitute Jhon Duran then smashed against the bar in stoppage time, but a second-half rally was too little, too late for Unai Emery’s men.
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