Questions remain about Man City's squad depth after win over West Brom
For 45 minutes on Wednesday night, Manchester City fans could have been forgiven for thinking that, for the first time in a long time, their side had good strength in depth. At half-time in the 2-1 Carabao Cup victory at West Brom, the visitors were leading 1-0 and had few could have complained had they been further in front.
However, the Baggies' revival after the break forced Pep Guardiola's side onto the back foot for long spells -- and but for a great strike from Leroy Sane and some missed chances by Albion forwards, the tie could have had an entirely different outcome.
That must present a worry for Guardiola, as the fixture list begins to hot up. For the foreseeable future, he will be at the mercy of two games a week as City are now underway in both the Champions League and Carabao Cup alongside their Premier League campaign.
In the past, City have come unstuck when rotating their team for the lesser-prioritised competitions. This competition especially has been one where a weakened side has been named -- of course, City's second string XI should be strong enough to dispatch most teams, but there's always been something about the disjointed nature of those players not having featured regularly or being played slightly out of position that has led to poor displays.
Guardiola made eight changes from the 6-0 demolition of Watford, and while all of those he named were senior squad members -- after some clamoured for more of the club's exciting youth players to be involved -- many were either low on game time this season or just coming back from injury. After a barnstorming first half, they were left clinging on grimly at the end of the second as Hal Robson-Kanu struck the post in the final moments.
Eliaquim Mangala was a constant worry for the travelling fans. Given a second chance, after the deal to bring in Jonny Evans in August fell through, the defender looked suspect with the ball at his feet. As the pressure grew towards the end, there were signs of the old, unreliable Mangala shining through -- even if he'd looked composed in the first half.
Claudio Bravo's troubles have been long documented and again he was filling the rear guard with nerves as he only seemed to reluctantly leave his line to alleviate the pressure.
Even Fabian Delph and Yaya Toure, two of City's more experienced heads that evening, faded towards the end of the match. They were unable to control the midfield, as Albion twice searched for their equalisers.
It was a problem Roberto Mancini sometimes had during his spell in charge, as he rotated the side. It was less felt under Manuel Pellegrini, who named his strongest XI come what may, perhaps pointing to the reason why he won the competition in two of his three seasons at the helm.
There's been a common misconception that City have had great strength-in-depth for a while, but in actual fact it's games like Wednesday's that have shown there aren't as many good players in reserve as some may think. It has to be acknowledged, though, that Guardiola won't be expected to field a line-up so heavily rotated in any other competition -- it's more likely just one or two players will need to come in to cover injury or suspension.
Of course, questions will still be asked because of the investment that's been made. However, the shakiness on Wednesday came down to several factors: some of those involved were rusty having barely played, Ilkay Gundogan was forced off injured when only just returning from a long layoff, and we've already mentioned Bravo being in goal behind a rotated defence.
The signing of Ederson as City's new No. 1 has been crucial. Having a man who exudes confidence in goal has been a breath of fresh air to the back line, which has looked remarkably calm and composed even without the reassuring influence of Vincent Kompany in the team.
With the visit of Crystal Palace on Saturday and the return of the Champions League, as Shakhtar Donetsk travel to the Etihad on Tuesday, City are soon going to be reliant on the depth of their squad.
How long can both Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus play up front together, especially with no other senior striker at the club? What happens when there is injury or suspension to the full-backs, since both Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy have been crucial to City's revitalised style of play in the last few weeks?
Most of all, can Guardiola afford to rest players here and there in order to save them for important games in other competitions? That's how City have been caught out in the past, as they've rotated a couple of positions for what should in theory be "easier" games -- only to put themselves under pressure.
While the much-changed team from Wednesday might only be a feature of the Carabao Cup this season, perhaps Guardiola has learnt more about who may or may not be up to the task of deputising in the first team. As the pressure was on in the closing stages, some were beginning to show strain.
Against Palace on Saturday, the manager may choose to leave out one or two players that could be crucial against Shakhtar, especially with the Eagles yet to even score a goal or gain a point in the Premier League.
What will determine how well City can compete in all competitions this season is whether the boss can manage his squad effectively.
David Mooney is ESPN FC's Manchester City blogger. Twitter: @DavidMooney