Forget fatigue, Guardiola's going all out as Man City target cup glory

The Catalan picked something close to his strongest line-up in the FA Cup and will do so again in Monaco as he looks to end his first season in style


It seemed for a moment that Pep Guardiola was weighing up a sarcastic response when asked about the importance of the next seven days to Manchester City’s season.

It is the kind of question which he has dismissed in recent weeks, perhaps because he sees it as an attempt to overplay the situation, or to put pressure on his players.

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Instead, after a second’s hesitation as the journalists at his Friday press conference wondered what was about to come, he wholeheartedly agreed.

“Definitely,” he said. “It is an important week. We have done a good job especially in two competitions, though we are doing quite well in the Premier League as well, but of course this week is so, so important.”

Adama Traore Leroy Sane Middlesbrough Manchester City 11032017

Middlesbrough on Saturday lunchtime, an opportunity to reach a Wembley FA Cup semi-final, came ahead of the Champions League trip to Monaco on Wednesday and a home Premier League clash with Liverpool next Sunday.

“These three games will decide what's going to happen in the next two months - definitely," Guardiola concurred.

The former Barcelona boss had aimed to give his side a boost ahead of that run by shuffling his pack a little - and, despite the furore afterwards, it did a little - by resting Raheem Sterling and David Silva for the midweek game against Stoke City. A goalless draw suggests the rotation backfired but there are, at least, two cup competitions up for grabs.

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At the Riverside on Saturday morning, Guardiola’s intentions were made clear. With City one win from Wembley, the Catalan went with something like his strongest side. Silva and Kevin De Bruyne teamed up in the middle again, while Sterling returned to the side to form a fearsome front three with Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero.

Claudio Bravo was given a go in goal while Aleksandar Kolarov and Fernandinho were left on the bench - perhaps with one eye on Monaco - but Guardiola went with a stronger side than most expected, and perhaps many other managers would in his position.

Vindication arrived after just three minutes when David Silva finished off a fine team move. Boro, to their credit, kept going and although their threat was fairly rudimentary, coming via the pace of Adama Traore and aerial threat at set-pieces, they did worry City at times before the break.

David Silva FA Cup Middlesbrough v Man City

After it, though, it was all City. Brad Guzan kept them at bay on several occasions but could do nothing when Sane was released down the left and crossed for Aguero, who composed himself and fired in.

There was a gulf in class, and it was because Guardiola went strong with his line-up. “The cup is a final and at the end you are not playing for one point or three points,” he said on Friday. “You have to win. It doesn't matter.”

He is not the only manager to call regular matches ‘finals’ but he certainly does it a lot - it is no coincidence that has now reached a semi-final in all eight seasons of his coaching career to date - and he was certain he wasn’t going to lose this game, even if there is the unavoidable knock-on of tiredness further down the line.

If his starting line-up was a statement of intent regarding, his substitutions were a statement of indifference. When Nolito replaced Sane immediately after City went 2-0 up here, and with over 20 minutes to go, it appeared Guardiola’s other key men would start to come off.

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Howeever, with Yaya Toure spared only the final 10 minutes and Aguero the three minutes of injury time, it does not appear that Guardiola is too concerned about the possibility of fatigue.

It was Monaco who faded late on in the first leg and City might need them to again on Wednesday, if the Blues’ two-away-goal aggregate lead is chipped into by the vibrant Ligue 1 leaders. Still, with an FA Cup semi now safely in the bag, that is for Guardiola to work out.

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And although league title may be gone, the top four places are still up for grabs and with Arsenal and Chelsea waiting after the Liverpool game, and United to visit the Etihad sometime at the end of April, the fixtures might start to pile up - at the time when cup competitions are back on the cards.

Clearly, though, Guardiola is not thinking overly worried about that. “The schedule is the schedule” is another one of his favourite phrases and while it may pose a selection headache or two down the line it is hard to argue that any team would be better off out of the cups come April, May and June.

And it will be that message which City fans carry with them back to Manchester on Saturday afternoon. City, tired as they may be, are looking good.