Monday 18 December 2017

City's Pep calls for one last Champions League push

Pep Guardiola. Photo: PA
Pep Guardiola. Photo: PA

Pep Guardiola wants one last big effort from Manchester City to secure third place in the Premier League and automatic entry to Europe’s elite competition.

Victory for Guardiola’s side in their final game of the season at Watford tomorrow will see them hold on to third spot in the table and go straight into next season’s Champions League.

A draw would still be enough to ensure a top-four finish but that would mean having to play in a Champions League play-off.

City could still miss out altogether if they lose, Liverpool overcome Middlesbrough and Arsenal improve their goal difference by at least five in the process of beating Everton.

Guardiola’s focus, however, is very much on winning at Vicarage Road.

He said: “We still have 95, 96 minutes to fight to do one thing that’s so important for the club and the future. It’s a crucial game for us. It’s a final, an absolute final.

“Of course, it’s in our hands. It depends on us. We just look at what we have to do, win the game.

“Watford were one team during the season we had a good result against at home. We travel to London for that.

“Every game has pressure. Every game we play for everything, but it’s in our hands. It doesn’t depend on Arsenal or Liverpool. It depends on us. We have to go there and win the game.”

City began the season among the title favourites and got off to an impressive start but were unable to sustain a serious challenge.

Given the expectation that accompanied Guardiola’s arrival last summer, going into the final game still needing points to secure a top-four place represents under-achievement.

“Normally the big teams always fight until the end and after that you can win or lose it,” said Guardiola.

“In the Premier League, we didn’t fight until the end because two teams were better than us and we dropped a lot of points at home. We must improve on that next season.

“The gap to the leaders is big. We have to have to work harder next season to reduce that gap.”

With a number of players out of contract at the end of the campaign, Guardiola is expected to revamp his squad ahead of the new season.

He believes he knows the areas where improvement is required.

He said: “I have learned about my players. I have learned about what you have to do to make these players better and win the games. During the year you always improve.

“We are going to make changes and, of course, a lot of players are going to remain.”

Defender John Stones, meanwhile, could return to the City starting line-up. The England centre-back returned as a late substitute in the midweek Premier League win over West Brom after six games out with a groin injury.

Midfielders Fabian Delph (leg) and Ilkay Gundogan (knee), and goalkeeper Claudio Bravo (calf) are out while right-back Pablo Zabaleta makes his final appearance for the club. There is also uncertainty over the futures of Yaya Toure, Jesus Navas, Willy Caballero, Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy, who are all out of contract this summer.

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