herald

Tuesday 26 March 2019

Pep is up for the cup

City boss fired up for final as Sarri feels heat

Pep Guardiola has an insatiable appetite for trophies
Pep Guardiola has an insatiable appetite for trophies

Manchester City have made winning the League Cup a habit in recent years and most would expect that to continue as they head into yet another final.

Few who watched the holders swat aside their Wembley opponents Chelsea 6-0 in a Premier League match earlier this month could anticipate any other outcome.

Not only were City, managed by the ultra-demanding Pep Guardiola, at their dazzling best but Chelsea's season, already starting to unravel, was apparently accelerating towards crisis.

It would certainly be some achievement for Maurizio Sarri to turn things around from there and deny City a fourth League Cup success in six years.

Adding to the scale of the task facing the Londoners - who also went out of the FA Cup in the past week - is the fact Guardiola has made clear he is taking the competition extremely seriously.

The Spaniard's hunger for silverware is insatiable. He readily counts Community Shields and Super Cups among his successes - taking his trophy tally in a decade of management at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and City to 24 - and he clearly wants more.

"I know it's a competition, with all respect, that when you win and you are in the final you are so happy - but when you're out you're not sad.

"But once we are there we take every game seriously. We are in the final and we are, of course, going to try to win it," Guardiola said.

"We have already won one title this season, the Community Shield, and I think we have shown that every game is important."

For Sarri, the game could be his only opportunity to secure a tangible legacy from his Chelsea tenure.

Given the churn of managers at Stamford Bridge, it was always unlikely the veteran Italian's appointment would be a long-term one but recent results have suggested the parting of the ways could come even sooner than expected.

With top-four hopes in the balance, success in this competition would not offer much security but it might earn him the right to see out the Premier League and Europa League campaigns. His future could then come down to whether he secures a coveted Champions League place.

Swift

In isolation, a first major trophy on Sarri's record would not go amiss and might even serve him well in the future, but he is going to have to upset the odds to deliver it. But should things go badly wrong at Wembley, the end could be swift.

Goalkeeper Willy Caballero, meanwhile, feels Chelsea should focus on substance over style.

The 37-year-old Argentinian could deputise for Kepa Arrizabalaga at Wembley against his former club after the Spaniard missed Thursday's Europa League last-32 win over Malmo with a hamstring problem.

Caballero watched on from the bench as Chelsea lost 6-0 at the Etihad Stadium.

Sarri's stubborn resistance to changing his favoured 4-3-3 formation and possession-based style has been scrutinised of late with the result against City - Chelsea's worst in 28 years - swiftly following a 4-0 defeat at Bournemouth.

"Everything's important, but if you win sometimes you forget how you play or what you did wrong," said Caballero.

"If he (Kepa) cannot play I am ready."

Chelsea began the competitive season with an 18-match unbeaten run, but have been inconsistent since as they wrestle with 'Sarri-ball'.

They inflicted City's first defeat of the season on December 8, winning 2-0 at Stamford Bridge, but the humiliating losses at Bournemouth and City followed, leaving Sarri's position precarious.

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