Neil Humphreys: Easy win masks Man City's defensive deficiencies
Makeshift centre-back Rodri's injury adds to Guardiola's backline crisis
Pep Guardiola lost his temper with John Stones while the substitute was still sitting on the bench. That is a remarkable achievement, but not a surprising one.
The Manchester City manager knows a centre-back mess when he sees one, which only made him the grumpiest 5-1 winner in history.
He saw the easy Champions League victory over Atalanta for what it was - a smokescreen to cover the defensive disorder in front of Ederson.
City cannot play Atalanta every week. In fact, they are playing Liverpool in just over two weeks. Anfield awaits.
And the league champions will drag over a central defence with all the fortitude and stability of a punctured bouncy castle.
They have already sent in the clowns, unleashing a comedy trio on the unsuspecting Italian side. Two midfielders and a black-eyed, peed-off substitute constitute City's defensive options these days.
Fernandinho spun around like a flamingo in a tutu and conceded a penalty. Rodri went off with a sore hamstring and Stones almost got a slap from his manager.
Guardiola settled on the substitute's seat in the end, battering the leather covering like a sadomasochist.
Stones, already nursing a black eye, had taken too long adjusting his shin pads. Guardiola lost patience and whacked the sub's seat. Their slapstick routine encapsulated the shambolic state of City's defence.
The manager hopes that Rodri has merely tweaked his hamstring, which means the midfielder returns in 10 days, missing only Aston Villa in the English Premier League and Southampton in both the EPL and League Cup.
But Guardiola fears a torn hamstring, which rules Rodri out for up to a month.
That will make him unavailable for the trip to Anfield on Nov 10 and doubtful for the visit of Chelsea on Nov 23.
And no real hope of cobbling together something that vaguely resembles a title-challenging central defence.
Guardiola's surly tone and brusque answers betrayed a perfectionist who knows he is not getting anywhere close.
It is still unfathomable how a squad that was assembled at a cost of more than a billion dollars finds itself praying for a midfielder to shake off a muscle injury so he can take his place alongside a veteran midfielder in central defence.
Bizarrely, Guardiola can't blame injuries either.
Stones and Nicolas Otamendi, experienced central defenders, started on the bench.
But Rodri and Fernandinho were paired together for the second consecutive game, which was like replacing a couple of sampan with tankers.
The latter have superior engines, but they are engineered for a different enterprise.
At 34, Fernandinho boasts the bulk of a tanker, but also turns like one.
LOST HIS MARKER
He lost his marker, along with his sense of navigation. He did not know where he was when he brought down Josip Ilicic.
The Brazilian has conceded three penalties in a year. Guardiola does not believe in coincidences, just as he doesn't really believe in Stones and Otamendi.
Stones featured for 10 minutes against Crystal Palace and still ended up with a ghoulish black eye. He replaced Rodri against Atalanta, but his erratic form and fitness continue to concern his manager.
Guardiola's petulant outburst over Stones' shin-pad dithering was unexpected. He rarely rebukes players in public.
But his loss of composure was perhaps symptomatic of his underlying frustration.
The kid once considered England's natural successor to Rio Ferdinand, a confident, ball-playing centre-back, cannot even put his shin pads on properly now.
The 25-year-old laboured with the pace of the Champions League contest, which only vindicated his manager's persistent lack of faith.
Stones risks taking Joe Hart's short walk to an early exit if he does not rediscover the swaggering confidence that propelled his initial breakthrough.
Otamendi, on the other hand, was given half an hour to assert his claim and really only succeeded in reminding Guardiola of his pre-season folly.
He did not replace Vincent Kompany. And Aymeric Laporte won't return from knee surgery until the New Year.
Perhaps Guardiola's seat-slapping routine wasn't directed towards Stones, but a little further along the dugout. If looks could kill, they'd be burying City's fitness coach Lorenzo Buenaventura this morning.
Apart from Laporte, Rodri and Stones, City have also lost Leroy Sane, Kevin de Bruyne, Benjamin Mendy and Oleksandr Zinchenko to injuries this season.
Something has got to give, especially in defence.
City's centre cannot hold.
Earlier in the week, Guardiola insisted that his side made too many mistakes to be considered Champions League contenders, which sounds like a coach downplaying expectations.
But he will not retain the EPL title either if he does not fix the mistake of his own making - that big, conspicuous hole in central defence.