Vincent Kompany shows the task facing Guardiola at Man City
Injury leaves the incoming manager - and Manuel Pellegrini - with a big problem at the back
Manchester City's limp Champions League exit leaves incoming boss Pep Guardiola with plenty to ponder - and outgoing manager Manuel Pellegrini hoping his final act isn't to see his side slide out next season's competition.
The lacklustre displays of Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure in Madrid last night highlighted the problems that will face Guardiola next season.
But the familiar sight of Vincent Kompany trudging off the field with yet another injury would have given both managers cause for concern.
Pellegrini must navigate the final two games of his tenure minus his skipper, who suffered his fifth injury of the season at the Bernabeu. Without Kompany at the back, City have been vulnerable and if they fail to beat Arsenal this weekend, they face being overhauled by local rivals Manchester United in the race for fourth place.
That would leave them without Champions League football in Pep Guardiola's first season at the Etihad and present the new coach with some difficult choices.
"The word at City is that Vincent Kompany will be given every chance to prove he can regain long-term fitness and stay at the Etihad," says the Daily Mail. "However, the latest setback of an injury-ravaged campaign shows that their unlucky captain still has a long way to go to convince the club that he is free of his persistent muscle problems."
City's "reliance" on the Belgian defender has become the "prime head-scratcher" for Guardiola, says Jamie Jackson of The Guardian. He must "wonder if he can really afford to rely on a 30-year-old whose previous injuries have already cost him 18 weeks of this season".
This is Kompany's 33rd injury since joining City in 2008. Of the 5,130 minutes he could have been on the pitch this season, he has played only 1,816 of them, reveals the Daily Mirror.
He also set an "unwanted record" on Wednesday, becoming "the first player ever to twice be substituted inside the first ten minutes of Champions League fixtures", adds the paper.
Despite City's assurances, Kompany's "career must surely be in doubt", says Julian Bennetts of the Daily Telegraph. "Guardiola is thought to be keen to make additions to his defence this summer, and a replacement for the captain will now – sadly – have to be on his shopping list."
City have lined up Aymeric Laporte as Kompany's replacement, although the Athletic Bilbao player is expected to be out until August with a broken leg and dislocated ankle, notes Jamie Jackson of the Guardian.
"On the one hand this shows how highly Laporte is thought of by Guardiola... But on the other, given that any player who returns from serious injury can never be absolutely sure how he might recover, it seems yet another throw of the dice at centre-back when really what is needed is the acquisition of a banker of a performer."
They also need a leader, says Oliver Kay of The Times, who recounts an "interesting vignette" about the captain's armband.
When Kompany left the field, he handed the band to Toure. But when he, too, was hauled off, there was widespread confusion about who would inherit the leadership duties.
Bacary Sagna and Raheem Sterling both turned down the chance and Aguero tried to palm the armband off to Joe Hart, before reluctantly pulling it on when it became apparent he did not have time to relay it to the keeper.
It serves to illustrate the task facing Guardiola, who must not only solve tactical issues, but provide the team with a "spark".