The Mail on Sunday

Guardiola wants his big players to stand tall, but Walker is not always listening

- By Jack Gaughan

BE it one trophy, four trophies or anything in between, the extent of Manchester City’s success this season hangs on individual­s.

Pep Guardiola said as much in the build-up to this FA Cup semi-final victory, claiming their final run of games hinge on his big players standing tall.

He wants them to grab hold of responsibi­lity, to make sure that even on days like this, when Brighton threatened to derail the Quadruple, City somehow manage to edge through.

Aymeric Laporte stood up when it mattered, hooking off his own line shortly after half time. So did Kevin de Bruyne with his wicked no-look cross to set up the opener. Yet there was also Kyle Walker, who could really have cost them a place in next month’s final. Riled following a naughty challenge by Alireza Jahanbakhs­h, Walker pushed his head towards the Brighton winger.

It was not malicious and probably did not constitute a headbutt — but that is not quite the point here. Walker’s reaction was silly, petulant, stupid.

On another day, with another VAR official, he might have seen red more than 10 minutes before half time. As it was, Paul Tierney advised referee Anthony Taylor the other way.

It is not the first time Walker has been involved in a heated moment over the last month, either.

Guardiola had to resort to dragging the right back away from a confrontat­ion with Bournemout­h’s Josh King during the 1-0 win down at the Vitality Stadium on March 2.

Again, that game was finely balanced at the time. Again, things could have ended differentl­y for Walker. Guardiola had presumably seen enough by half-time at Wembley, opting to substitute Walker and introduce Danilo.

This is what makes City’s final few weeks of the season so fascinatin­g. One slip or one ill-judged reaction could well bring the pursuit of perfection crashing down.

 ?? ?? POINT OF ORDER: Guardiola instructs Sterling
POINT OF ORDER: Guardiola instructs Sterling

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