New Straits Times - - Sport -

club to make a step for­ward, to try to com­pete to qual­ify for the Cham­pi­ons League, some­times to win the Premier League.

“That’s why Pablo Za­baleta, in these kind of things, is so, so im­por­tant.”

Vic­tory would just about en­sure a top-four fin­ish for Guardi­ola’s side, and may even make it math­e­mat­i­cally cer­tain if Arse­nal fail to beat Sun­der­land on the same night.

Guardi­ola is in the process of shap­ing his squad for next sea­son, and while Za­baleta’s fu­ture has been de­cided, those of City’s six other out-of-con­tract play­ers re­main in the bal­ance.

The most high-pro­file of those play­ers is mid­fielder Yaya

Toure, who looked cer­tain to leave af­ter be­ing dropped from the first-team squad ear­lier this sea­son be­cause of a fall-out with the man­ager.

Since re­solv­ing the dis­pute and be­ing re­called in De­cem­ber, Toure has proved him­self a valu­able player for City, and even though he turned 34 on Satur­day, it is clear that he still has plenty to of­fer.

City go into to­day’s match on the back of two suc­ces­sive wins, beat­ing Crys­tal Palace 5-0 but fol­low­ing that up with a far less con­vinc­ing 2-1 vic­tory over Le­ices­ter on Satur­day.

Guardi­ola must de­cide whether to re­call his 31goal lead­ing scorer Ser­gio Aguero to the start­ing line-up, hav­ing caused some­thing of a sur­prise by nam­ing him only as a sub­sti­tute on Satur­day.

Aguero, who made the squad af­ter re­cov­er­ing from a groin in­jury, did come on for the last 12 min­utes, but Gabriel Je­sus, signed in Jan­uary from Palmeiras, is clearly the firstchoice striker.

West Brom will head for East­lands with some dis­cour­ag­ing mem­o­ries, hav­ing shipped 23 goals in their last seven vis­its.

But de­spite los­ing 1-0 to Chelsea on Fri­day in the game that saw the Lon­don club crowned cham­pi­ons, West Brom boss Tony Pulis be­lieves op­ti­mism is high at The Hawthorns.

His side have two games to clinch the eighth place they have held for much of the sea­son.

“It was a slow start to the sea­son but we picked up and it’s been a fan­tas­tic jour­ney and a fan­tas­tic ride,” said Pulis.

“What we’ve got to do now is try to get some­thing from these two away games.

“The club had got a buzz about it that it hasn’t had for a long time, at least not since I’ve been at the club.

“There is much more op­ti­mism that the club hasn’t had since I’ve been here and peo­ple want to feel that and be part of it.

“And I’m hop­ing we can get maybe one or two play­ers in that can give us a lift for next sea­son be­cause that’s im­por­tant.” AFP

Pablo Za­baleta will leave Manch­ester City at the end of the sea­son.

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