Saturday 16 December 2017

Guardiola drops cool facade as City earn day out at Wembley

Middlesbrough 0 Manchester City 2

Manchester City’s Nicolas Otamendi wins a header above team-mate Kevin De Bruyne and Middlesbrough’s Marten de Roon. Photo: Reuters
Manchester City’s Nicolas Otamendi wins a header above team-mate Kevin De Bruyne and Middlesbrough’s Marten de Roon. Photo: Reuters

Luke Edwards

It has been an underwhelming first season in English football for Pep Guardiola, which could still have the sort of spectacular finale Manchester City envisaged after this FA Cup quarter-final mismatch against Middlesbrough.

Guardiola, the patron saint of football hipsters, has had his image tarnished a little by the failure to sustain a title challenge in the Premier League, while his cool facade has been pierced by his surly, sulky reaction to setbacks.

Sergio Aguero celebrates scoring his side's second goal. Photo: Getty
Sergio Aguero celebrates scoring his side's second goal. Photo: Getty

Yet, City have now gone 11 games unbeaten, are in the semi-finals of the world's most famous cup competition and will move into the last eight of the Champions League - the competition City made him the world's most highly paid manager to win - if they can navigate their way past Monaco in the second leg of a tie they lead 5-3 on Wednesday night.

If he was under pressure heading into this game against relegation-threatened Middlesbrough, Guardiola emerged unruffled and genuinely excited about the thought of leading the team out at Wembley in the semi-final.

If the Champions League is the holy grail for City, Guardiola has too much respect for tradition to dismiss the FA Cup as a consolation prize.

"I get excited a lot about the thought of leading my team out at Wembley," said Guardiola. "I have good memories of being at Wembley, at the old and the new one. Yes, of course, and to live that experience... I'm so, so happy.

MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND - MARCH 11: Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is seen during the Emirates FA Cup quarter-final match between Middlesborough and Manchester City at Riverside Stadium on March 11, 2017 in Middlesbrough, England. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND - MARCH 11: Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is seen during the Emirates FA Cup quarter-final match between Middlesborough and Manchester City at Riverside Stadium on March 11, 2017 in Middlesbrough, England. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

"We don't discriminate between competitions. When you're at a big club, you have to win. To understand that, you don't distinguish between friendly and competitive games. You have to play to win - it's the only way you can improve the mentality and that is what I want to try and give the club while I'm here."

Guardiola may have been less exuberant if City were still seriously challenging Chelsea for the title. In truth, only success in the Champions League will allow Guardiola's most fervent fans to argue he has lived up to expectations in his first season. The sneering reaction to anyone who suggested the Spaniard would not find things easy in the Premier League was naive. It was the blinkered reaction of those raised on computer games and those besotted with two of Guardiola's former employers, Europe's fashionista clubs, Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

To be fair to the man they idolise, Guardiola never said things would be easy in his third manager's role and he knows the cups offer salvation.

City were supremely confident, strutting and strolling, passing through and around Boro's defence to take the lead after less than three minutes. Yaya Toure chipped a pass to Pablo Zabaleta, who had three City players to aim for on the edge of the six-yard box. Even though Raheem Sterling missed his kick, David Silva behind him did not.

City switched on cruise control, but Boro battled their way back into the game and could have equalised twice in a few seconds. It gave Boro hope. City, though, moved up a gear and should have scored an almost identical goal to their first at the start of the second-half, as Kevin de Bruyne crossed for Sterling, who missed his kick again, only this time Silva also blasted over.

Guardiola's men sensed it was time to go for the kill, but Sergio Aguero was denied a goal by a brilliant save from Brad Guzan, who pushed the ball on to the post before going on to keep out shots from Silva and Leroy Sane.

Boro were clinging on, but it could not last forever and Aguero finished them off with a side-footed finish at the near post, converting Sane's cross. "If we play like that, we will not go down," said Boro manager Aitor Karanka. "The way we fought against one of the best teams in Europe, I've told the players, we must be positive when we play as well as we did."

Telegraph

Telegraph.co.uk

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