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Thursday 21 March 2019

Pep pours cold water over pitch talk as Burton tie looms

Pep Guardiola
Pep Guardiola

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has dismissed claims he ordered the grass to be grown longer at the Etihad Stadium ahead of last week's 2-1 win over Liverpool which reignited the Premier League title race.

City cut Liverpool's advantage at the top to four points with a win that was secured through goals from Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sane last Thursday night.

But the match prompted a theory from some Liverpool supporters that City had sought to slow the pace of the game by not cutting the grass to the usual level.

"I am not the groundskeeper," Guardiola said. "I never did. If Liverpool want to play quick, we want to play quicker. Never we manipulated it, always we try to put water (on the pitch) but it's not necessary here with the weather, it rains a lot.

"We want to cut the field all the time, all my career, 10 years as a manager. The better conditions for both teams, I never put in some trick about this.

"Always when you do this, karma or something punishes you. You have to do the best for the opponents, for the game, respect the game and the rules.

"I never speak with the groundsmen...how many issues do I have in my head to think about the pitch? I trust the groundsmen. I never made a phone call to say 'do this to damage our opponents'."

Though last Thursday's victory was a huge night for City and their hopes of retaining the Premier League title, they have been distracted by cup competitions since.

Guardiola's men thrashed Rotherham 7-0 in the FA Cup on Sunday and are now focused on tonight's League Cup semi-final first leg against Burton.

The League Cup was the first trophy Guardiola lifted as a manager in England, though he admitted it remained lower on the list of priorities. "Winning is important, we cannot deny it, we are here in the semi-finals and it's one step to go back to Wembley, that's why we take it seriously in that game once we are here," he said.

"It's true the Carabao Cup is the more local competition. Everybody is happy to win but nobody is sad if they go out in that competition. Once we are here, we are going to try."

Those priorities are likely to be reflected in a much-changed City side, with Aro Muric expected to start in goal and Phil Foden likely to be handed another opportunity in midfield.

It is the sort of match Brahim Diaz would have started but - having rejected a new deal from City - the 19-year-old signed for Real Madrid this week in a deal which could be worth up to £22million.

Asked if he was disappointed to lose Diaz, Guardiola said: "No. I said many times, we did with Brahim the same we did with Phil (Foden) and Jadon (Sancho), we did absolutely everything but in the end the only one who decides to stay is Phil so that's all.

"We wish him all the best. Of course going to Real Madrid is not a bad step and hopefully he can get the minutes he didn't get in the last period for many reasons. Nice guy."

league cup semi-final first leg

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