There’s no doubt that Pep Guardiola will be delighted for the Manchester City players who will be able to fulfil lifelong dreams and represent their countries at the World Cup next week. Though he might harbour some secret concerns about two call-ups.
Gareth Southgate announced his England squad for the tournament on Thursday and there’s little surprise that City was the most well-represented side. Five players have made the cut, with Phil Foden, Jack Grealish and John Stones all a given but Kalvin Phillips and Kyle Walker have only got in by the skin of their teeth.
That’s nothing to do with their ability on the pitch, of course, but the fact they’ve seldom been on it of late. Phillips especially has endured an injury-ravaged season since his move to the Etihad. Surgery to fix a long-standing shoulder problem kept him sidelined for weeks until he returned for a 40-minute cameo against Chelsea on Wednesday. He has still only played 54 minutes in the campaign but a lack of options in defensive midfield has earned him a call.
Kyle Walker hasn’t even returned to full training yet after going under the knife himself at the start of October due to a groin injury. Yet, the Three Lions boss believes he should be back in time to play a role in the group stage.
The duo’s return from injury is certainly good news for England’s chances as they’ve become crucial players in Southgate’s side. Phillips has likely lost his place to prodigy Jude Bellingham but will still provide vital cover in midfield. Walker, meanwhile, has long been a mainstay of the defence, regardless of if he’s playing in a back-three or at right-back.
They are also very important players to City but haven’t been available for some time. Guardiola has already voiced his frustrations at not having Phillips available as it has forced him to play Rodri much more than he would have liked. “Absolutely [it’s been frustrating] – for us as well,” he said in September. “We need him because Rodri cannot play all the games, Kalvin came to fight for that position and sometimes you need two holding midfielders to be more defensive,” he said.
“But I think it will be a bit longer because I think he needs it [surgery]. Every time he’s out because of this and the doctors say if it’s three or four times out then the only solution is to have surgery.”
Then the problems with not having Walker are obvious. Though it has allowed Rico Lewis to rise into the first team, City are light on full-back options and have been forced to rely on centre-backs moving out there.
While Guardiola will undoubtedly be pleased for both of them that they have managed to recover in time for the World Cup, the obvious worry he may have is justified. The Blues boss has been repeatedly critical of the timing of the tournament and the ludicrous, intense schedule hoisted upon the players as a result because it’s clear it could lead to an increase in injuries.
No one knows what domestic football will be like after the tournament concludes but it’s reasonable to expect a lot of players will be running on fumes, leaving them susceptible to niggles. That could happen to any City players at the World Cup, but Walker and Phillips are likely to be especially vulnerable given their lack of minutes in recent months.
Should either pick up a further injury then it would be a massive blow to City going into what will be a crucial run of fixtures across four different fronts. But it could be of benefit, too.
Alternatively to the doom and gloom, both players could regain their full match sharpness and register really good performances in Qatar, leaving them primed to return to City and come straight back into the team. It’s a double-edged sword that could go either way.