Se­lec­tion dilemma for Guardi­ola

New Straits Times - - Sport -

Pep Guardi­ola faces a se­lec­tion headache in to­day’s FA Cup quar­ter-fi­nal at Mid­dles­brough as the Manch­ester City man­ager jug­gles the de­mands of com­pet­ing for sil­ver­ware on two fronts.

Guardi­ola must de­cide how many of City’s best play­ers to risk for at the River­side Sta­dium as they have a cru­cial Cham­pi­ons League last 16 sec­ond leg clash with Monaco four days later.

The FA Cup of­fers the more re­al­is­tic prospect of Guardi­ola’s first tro­phy with City, but the Spa­niard’s suc­cess in Europe was a key fac­tor in the de­ci­sion to bring him to Manch­ester last year.

The for­mer Barcelona and Bay­ern Mu­nich boss will find his skills tested to the limit in what is a defin­ing week for City’s sea­son.

His most re­cent at­tempt at squad ro­ta­tion failed when Guardi­ola de­cided to start Wed­nes­day’s Pre­mier League home game against Stoke with­out his two best cre­ative play­ers.

David Silva was named as a sub­sti­tute and Ra­heem Ster­ling was rested al­to­gether as City drew 00, leaving them 10 points be­hind lead­ers Chelsea.

Guardi­ola has rested play­ers for each of City’s FA Cup games so far, but there are sign­ings that he is tak­ing the com­pe­ti­tion more se­ri­ously the fur­ther he pro­gresses.

Hav­ing made eight changes for their goal­less fifth round tie at Hud­der­s­field last month, he made only four for the re­play, which City won 5-1.

Clau­dio Bravo, now the sec­ond­choice goal­keeper for league games, has come back in for the last two FA Cup ties and should play again at the River­side Sta­dium, while full-back Pablo Za­baleta has also tended to be used in the com­pe­ti­tion.

Per­haps the big­gest ques­tion re­volves around Ser­gio Aguero.

The Ar­gentina striker was de­moted to the bench fol­low­ing the Jan­uary ar­rival of Gabriel Je­sus from Brazil­ian club Palmeiras.

Yet since Je­sus broke his foot against Bournemouth on Fe­bru­ary 13, Aguero has proved in­dis­pens­able.

He scored twice in 5-3 first leg win against Monaco, and is City’s best hope of the away goal they may well need in the prin­ci­pal­ity to se­cure Euro­pean progress.

Guardi­ola can­not af­ford an in­jury to the striker, and so may de­cide to field Kelechi Iheana­cho against Mid­dles­brough in­stead.

City mid­fielder Yaya Toure hinted that there will be some changes to­day, say­ing: “We’ve got two games now where we need all the play­ers.

“We have to try to do the busi­ness. Mid­dles­brough is going to be a tough, tough game.

“They’ve had a rest for a week. We’ll try to do our best. Of course, one tro­phy would be very welcome for us.”

Mean­while, Mid­dles­brough boss Aitor Karanka in­sists he has the full back­ing of chair­man Steve Gibson de­spite see­ing his side drop into the rel­e­ga­tion zone for the first time this sea­son af­ter a 10game win­less Pre­mier League run.

Mid­dles­brough’s progress to the last eight of the Cup has helped to re­lieve the pres­sure on Karanka, who came un­der fire from sec­tions of the club’s trav­el­ling sup­port dur­ing the 2-0 de­feat at Stoke, which stretched the Teessiders’ wait for a league vic­tory be­yond three months.

Karanka has held talks this week with Gibson and the Spa­niard con­ceded: “The last two weeks have been really bad.”

Asked if he still has Gibson’s back­ing, he added: “Of course. I’ve spo­ken to the chair­man since the week­end.

“We dis­cussed the amaz­ing op­por­tu­nity we have to make it to Wem­b­ley by win­ning on Satur­day. We know we have to be pos­i­tive and be­lieve in what we’re do­ing.

“The most dif­fi­cult mo­ment for me at this club was when I ar­rived three years ago and we lost three of the first four games.

“Back then he told me he had con­fi­dence in me and that was a big thing. He doesn’t have to tell me ev­ery day that he has con­fi­dence in me.

“I don’t really care what the crit­ics say, be­cause I’m my own big­gest critic.”


Manch­ester City’s Ser­gio Aguero tries to drib­ble past Stoke City play­ers in their Pre­mier League match on Wed­nes­day.

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