Pep Guardiola may find his Manchester City squad stretched in the final weeks of the season, and his management of the players’ game time will be crucial.

Manchester City won the treble last season.

A year on, they are one of only two teams (along with Paris Saint-Germain) who could still win the treble of domestic league, domestic cup and UEFA Champions League in 2023-24.

They are also unbeaten in 22 games in all competitions, winning 19 of them, in a run stretching back to early December.

Man City are flying, as they tend to be at this stage of the season. It was at this point last year, of course, that they started reining in Arsenal at the top of the Premier League table. On this day in 2023, Arsenal led the league by eight points, but City finished the campaign five clear.

With 10 games left of this season, Arsenal hold a one-point lead and are looking in far better shape this time around, but ahead of Sunday’s meeting at the Etihad, City are still favourites for the title.

With all this in mind, it feels like an odd time to question whether City, with their squad packed full of £50 million-plus players, have the depth to go all the way on three fronts.

But as they enter a period of 29 days in which they face 10 fixtures – starting with a huge game this weekend – Pep Guardiola will surely have to manage his players’ workload particularly carefully. Especially with Kyle Walker and John Stones limping out of England matches during the international break.

Guardiola has been able to sign just about anyone he has wanted during his time at City, and he has built one of the all-time great teams, but City have not stockpiled players like other clubs. Last summer, for example, while they spent big money signing Josko Gvardiol, Matheus Nunes, Jérémy Doku, and Mateo Kovacic, they also moved on Cole Palmer, Riyad Mahrez, Aymeric Laporte, and Ilkay Gündogan. A year earlier, they signed Erling Haaland, Kalvin Phillips, and Manuel Akanji, but sold Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, and Oleksandr Zinchenko.

The City boss clearly prefers to work with a small, tight-knit squad. He has players he trusts and not many in excess of that. No team have given fewer players starts in the Premier League this season than City’s 20 (alongside Fulham), while only West Ham (24) have used fewer players in total this season than City (25). What’s more, four of City’s aren’t with the club now (Laporte, Palmer, Kalvin Phillips and James McAtee), and they left having made no starts and played a combined total of just 111 minutes. That leaves just 21 players still at the club who have appeared in the league for City this season.

Guardiola is also one of a handful of managers not taking full advantage of the change to allow each team to make five substitutes in a game. City have made the fewest substitutions in the Premier League this season (77), with just 55% of their available subs introduced. Both of the two instances of a team using none of their subs in a game this season were City, and three of the 14 instances of a team using just one sub were them, too. Guardiola has used all five subs in just four of City’s 28 Premier League games this season (14.3%).

Now, City are blessed to be able to field 11 players who would get into just about any other team in the world, so maybe there is less reason for Guardiola to withdraw them. They are also able to control games better than anyone else, which means the closing stages of games can be relatively little work for them. If they have a lead, they can make the pitch as big as possible and knock the ball about at a leisurely pace. Tired players can see out games more easily than those at other teams.

But it is curious nonetheless that City have used so few players – and it hasn’t always been because Guardiola has been happy with the players on the pitch. A club with almost endless riches have actually ended up playing out some games making few or no changes simply because Guardiola doesn’t have good enough options on the bench.

City have suffered their fair share of injury problems, but nothing particularly extraordinary. According to, their players have lost 611 days to injury this season – the third-fewest in the Premier League, after West Ham (385) and Wolves (418), and just over half the number lost by the players at title rivals, Liverpool (1,088).

Premier League Days Lost to Injury 2023-24

City’s players have suffered 22 injuries that result in the player missing more than one Premier League game – the sixth-fewest in the top flight. They have suffered the fifth-fewest soft-tissue injuries – those that are generally considered avoidable – with 12.

In other words, City have suffered a pretty ordinary number of injuries, and certainly no more than one might expect – or have to plan for – before the start of the season, even if they saw their players injured for fewer days last season (447) than every other Premier League team. There have been occasions this term when the only non-defensive options on the City bench have been youngster Oscar Bobb and the unproven Sergio Gómez.

Meanwhile, Jack Grealish has suffered problems with both form and fitness – most likely the former because of the latter – and Guardiola is yet to be persuaded sufficiently by Nunes to trust him in big moments or big games. Teenager Rico Lewis is an incredibly bright prospect but he has fallen out of favour.

On closer inspection, City’s squad looks remarkably thin for a team that will presumably deem anything other than a repeat of last season’s treble a disappointment.

But another stat suggests Guardiola is actually managing his squad exceptionally well. Despite having a league-low 20 players start at least one Premier League game this season, City’s starting lineups have seen the fifth-most changes from week to week. Guardiola has made 73 starting XI changes – fewer only than Brighton (108), Nottingham Forest (80), Liverpool (78) and Sheffield United (75).

Rather than use in-game changes to manage his squad, Guardiola rotates his starting XI consistently. There are a few players, such as Walker, Julián Alvarez, Rodri, and Phil Foden, who have been relied upon pretty much every week, but otherwise Guardiola does his best to allow his players a game off whenever possible.

And when he rests them, he likes to fully rest them. Kevin De Bruyne, Nathan Aké and Bernardo Silva were unused substitutes in the Champions League round-of-16 second leg against Copenhagen earlier this month, for example. A day later in the Europa League, Jürgen Klopp took a very different approach, introducing Mohamed Salah, Virgil van Dijk and Dominik Szoboszlai from the bench with Liverpool a few goals ahead in their Europa League win over Sparta Prague. data tells us that City have suffered a Premier League-low three hamstring injuries this season – the type of injuries most commonly associated with players being overworked – suggesting their players have had their workloads managed well.

The question for the remainder of the campaign, then, is whether Guardiola has enough depth to rotate and keep his players fresh and free from injury. There is also the question of whether City will have enough opportunities to rest players. Given the pace at which Arsenal and Liverpool are picking up points, they can’t afford to drop many in the title race, and there will be no let-up in the Champions League against Real Madrid (and then potentially Bayern Munich or Arsenal in the next round) or in their FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea.

City haven’t had much luck over the international break, with Walker and Stones limping off during England’s recent friendlies after Manuel Akanji picked up a knock while with Switzerland and De Bruyne missed Belgium’s games altogether with a hip injury. As the fixtures pile up, Guardiola will have to manage his players’ game time extremely carefully.

His opponent on Sunday, Mikel Arteta, learned plenty from his former manager at City, and appears to have a similar attitude towards using a tight-knit squad. Arsenal have used the same number of players as City (25) and have handed only one more player a start (21) than them.

However, Arsenal rank fifth-from-bottom of the Premier League for changes to their starting XI, with 47 – an average of just 1.7 per game. No team has more outfielders who have started 25 or more Premier League games so far this season than Arsenal (5 – Declan Rice, William Saliba, Bukayo Saka, Ben White, Martin Ødegaard – joint-top with West Ham).

So, as Arsenal enter their own busy period (though they don’t have an FA Cup semi-final to contend with), Arteta may have to think about mixing things up.

Injuries and player availability may play a major role in the final couple of months of the season – as they did last year when Arsenal’s title bid fell apart after Saliba got injured. Guardiola’s ability to juggle his players will be crucial.

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