Pep Guardiola believes Manchester City’s togetherness can combat the “almost irreplaceable” loss of Kevin De Bruyne after it was announced the Belgian playmaker would be sidelined for between four and six weeks.
The 29-year-old limped off in the 2-0 midweek win over Aston Villa that briefly sent City to the top of the Premier League, and scans have revealed a muscular injury is set to rule him out of a critical period in the season.
De Bruyne, the 2019-20 Premier League player of the season, could miss up to 10 matches, leaving a sizeable void in City’s ranks, another blow in a campaign where record goal-scorer Sergio Aguero has been limited to three starts.
The Argentinian has been blighted by injuries in recent months and on Thursday announced he had tested positive for coronavirus, but Guardiola refused to be too downbeat about the ill fortunes of two of his biggest stars.
Ahead of the FA Cup fourth-round trip to Cheltenham on Saturday, the City manager insisted unity and fighting spirit from an entire team trumped individual quality in the battle for major honours.
“You have to know that I’m going to miss Kevin a lot,” Guardiola said. “He’s almost irreplaceable with the special quality he has. He was nominated the best player in the Premier League last season so we know how good he is.
“But at the same time, when you want to win important titles, you need something which is irreplaceable too – the charisma the team can have, the commitment and the relations between all the stars in the locker room.
“On and off the pitch they are not friends but almost friends to fight together. Without that you cannot achieve absolutely any titles. The quality doesn’t win titles, quality wins more games.
“But titles are won because there is something like the confidence built for the team and everybody accepts it. When that happens you can win a lot of games in a row and titles.
“We are going to miss Kevin, but we’ve had almost one year with Sergio Aguero, maybe one of the best strikers in all of the history in the Premier League, and we move forward without him. We have to find a solution.”
The impact injury Kyle Walker suffered against Villa will preclude his involvement in City’s trip to the Jonny-Rocks Stadium to take on a Robins side who sit sixth in the Sky Bet League Two standings after 23 matches.
Guardiola has only once lost to lower-league opposition in his four and a half seasons at City – when League One Wigan won an FA Cup fifth-round tie three years ago – but he confessed the thought of an upset drives him on.
“I’m scared to lose the games,” he said. “I don’t want to lose competitions. When I don’t know the opponents, I have to know what they do. I respect these managers and players playing in these competitions.
“When you play against any team in the Premier League in the last five years, I know them and I know exactly what you have to do.
“But Cheltenham, I didn’t see one game before this draw, so I have to see as much as possible. I want to play against the next opponents and I want to go through, it’s as simple as that.”
Guardiola’s counterpart at Cheltenham, Michael Duff, revealed the visitors would be getting changed in the bar of the stadium, something the Spaniard welcomed – on one condition.
“Please, only I ask to Cheltenham do not leave beers in the bar before the game,” Guardiola said. “We will be delighted to change in the bar but no alcohol there because we want to win the game and be in perfect condition.”
Asked if he had come across anything like that before, Guardiola added: “Of course! Everyone comes from the lower divisions. We play in these stadiums all our careers, we don’t play in big stadiums all the time.”