Quadruple gone & De Bruyne injured - Pep faces tough test to lift sluggish City after FA Cup setback

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Pep Guardiola Kevin De Bruyne Manchester City Chelsea FA Cup GFX
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City's hopes of winning four trophies were ended at Wembley on Saturday but they cannot afford to dwell on their 1-0 loss to Chelsea

It took 51 matches but the demands of competing for four trophies until the middle of April finally took its toll on Manchester City.

Manager Pep Guardiola had always insisted the quadruple was out of the question and the impossible dream finally died on Saturday at Wembley.

City were beaten 1-0 by Thomas Tuchel's resurgent Chelsea side but the big fear now is that they didn't just lose a shot at history, but also one of their key players.

Indeed, the injury which forced Kevin De Bruyne off early in the second half could yet prove even more painful than seeing their hopes of winning the FA Cup disappear.

City face an anxious wait for news on the Belgian, who will have tests on Sunday on a twisted ankle, with doctors immediately telling Guardiola that it “doesn’t look good”.

But the Catalan's players cannot afford to feel sorry for themselves – or De Bruyne.

Manchester United can cut their lead at the top of the Premier League to eight points with a win on Sunday against Burnley.

It would still be a comfortable advantage but City certainly won't want any slip-ups in their rearranged game at Aston Villa in midweek.

Then comes their first chance of winning silverware this season, with the Carabao Cup final against Tottenham on Sunday. Just three days later, they face a momentous Champions League semi-final clash with Paris Saint-Germain.

Pep Guardiola Man City Chelsea GFX

"I tried to avoid all the [talk] about the [quadruple] and I always said the same: 'The next game, the next one,'" the City boss told reporters after the Chelsea loss.

“I don't know what's going to happen this season. I'm incredibly delighted with what we have done so far because of the amount of games we played – we didn't have a midweek in an eternity.

“What is next is Aston Villa and we need 10 points [to win the title]. Then, we want to arrive in good shape for the League Cup final, and then the Champions League."

Reaching the last four of the latter tournament for the first time under Guardiola was a major breakthrough for the former Barca boss, after four seasons of bitter disappointment.

But the emotional toil involved in breaking through that barrier, coupled with the effect of travelling to and from Dortmund, appeared to leave City drained against Chelsea.

Guardiola did his best to re-energise his team by making eight changes but the net result was that they lacked their usual coherence.

Indeed, Hakim Ziyech’s 55th-minute winner was conceded with worrying ease. Timo Werner dashed down the channels, City goalkeeper Zack Steffen was caught out of position and Benjamin Mendy wasn’t alert to stop Ziyech cruising into the area to score a tap-in.

With Chelsea proving incredibly difficult to break down since the arrival of Tuchel, an equaliser was always unlikely and City rarely threatened the nervous Kepa Arrizabalaga.

Kevin De Bruyne Manchester City Chelsea FA Cup GFX

But the tempo was set in the first half when City, with so many of their in-form players on the bench, proved devoid of ideas.

There was no Ilkay Gundogan to break the lines, no Phil Foden to open up his box of tricks and no Bernardo Silva to add his spark and vigour.

Instead, with Raheem Sterling struggling for form, Ferran Torres still finding his feet and two holding midfielders for extra protection, City were crying out for creativity.

Even De Bruyne failed to open up Chelsea before he hobbled off at the start of the second half. Foden and Gundogan instantly provided some dynamism when they came on, but not an equaliser.

Of course, rotating the squad is always a difficult balancing act and, suddenly, City don’t quite so invincible without their main men.

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Last week’s league defeat to Leeds could be excused as a blip but against Chelsea, City were simply second best.

Speaking afterwards, Guardiola was adamant that one significant defeat won’t wreck everything that City have achieved this season, but a couple more similarly sluggish performances certainly would.

The City boss has to pick his side up for the tough tests that lie ahead, and quickly.

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