Mauricio Pochettino not expecting a vulnerable Man City in FA Cup semi-final

By Sports Desk April 19, 2024

Mauricio Pochettino warned his Chelsea players not to expect to come up against a vulnerable Manchester City side when the teams meet in Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final.

City go into the game off the back of playing extra time against Real Madrid in the Champions League on Wednesday night before eventually being knocked out on penalties, leaving less than 72 hours recovery time ahead of stepping out at Wembley.

Pep Guardiola has had to deal with fatigue amongst his ranks in recent weeks, with midfielder Rodri admitting to needing a rest earlier this month. He was subsequently left out of the team for last weekend’s win over Luton at the Etihad Stadium but returned to the starting XI for the defeat to Real.

They are still in contention to retain two of the three trophies they won last season, holding a two-point lead over Arsenal and Liverpool in the Premier League title race in addition to Saturday’s meeting with Pochettino’s side as they seek a third FA Cup triumph in six seasons.

Chelsea will return to the scene of their Carabao Cup final loss to Liverpool in February, after which they were heavily criticised for failing to overcome a Reds team decimated by injury.

Jurgen Klopp’s side triumphed in extra time despite finishing the game with four highly inexperienced academy graduates aged 21 or under on the pitch.

And Pochettino insisted there will be no easy ride for his players as City lick their European wounds.

“The good example is Liverpool,” he said. “People were talking about too many injured players, how many young kids they had playing. Look what happened after.

“From our point of view, we are going to compete against Manchester City. If you ask me about their situation, I can give my opinion, but we are not talking about that. We are going to compete against them.

“Today we were preparing, doing meetings, about the Manchester City that played against Real Madrid, that played against us in the Premier League.

“We are not talking about playing one (City line-up) or playing another. For me, the strength of Manchester City is that they keep the same idea and the same philosophy.

“In the last five, six, seven years, even with different players, they play in the same way, they have the structure to dominate and to create chances and to win games and to win trophies.

“I understand the situation is tough for them after playing 120 minutes in the Champions League. Emotionally, you expend a big energy. It’s about how they recover now.

“They are going be competitive and they have an amazing staff that look after the players. They’re going to put 11 players that will play with full energy to try and win the game.”

Pochettino will have Enzo Fernandez available for selection after he missed Monday’s 6-0 demolition of Everton.

The manager said the World Cup winner’s fitness will be carefully managed following reports this week in Argentina that he requires a hernia operation.

“We are not looking for heroes,” said Pochettino.

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    Bayer Leverkusen were "not interested" in maintaining their unbeaten record, according to Granit Xhaka, who acknowledged his frustrations after Wednesday's Europa League final disappointment.

    Xabi Alonso's Bundesliga champions had not suffered defeat since the final game of last season against Bochum, but succumbed to their next loss in the decisive moment against Atalanta in Dublin.

    Ademola Lookman stole the headlines with a remarkable hat-trick, powering Gian Piero Gasperini's team to their first title in 61 years, when Atalanta won the Coppa Italia.

    A 3-0 defeat ensured Leverkusen will have to settle for, at most, a domestic double as they look to bounce back on Saturday in the DFB-Pokal final.

    Yet Xhaka insisted Alonso's side never had the undefeated streak in their minds as soon as kick-off arrived at the Aviva Stadium.

    "Honestly, we're not interested in the unbeaten record," the former Arsenal midfielder said to RTL. "We didn't care about that from the start.

    "It's about the game and unfortunately we lost a final today. That's football.

    "We said yesterday that it would be a difficult game. Compliments to Atalanta."

    Leverkusen's unbeaten streak spanned nine months and 51 games this season, starting their 2023-24 campaign with a first-round DFB-Pokal thrashing of lowly Teutonia Ottensen in mid-August.

    Alonso's impressive men triumphed in 42 of those matches during their historic unbeaten run across all competitions, drawing the other nine as Leverkusen coasted to their first Bundesliga title in history.

    Scoring 143 goals and conceding just 39 across that dominant period, not many would have expected Gasperini's side to shutout Leverkusen and beat goalkeeper Matej Kovar three times in the process.

    Leverkusen are the first league-title winners to lose the UEFA Cup/Europa League final in the same season since Benfica in 2013-14, and the first German side to do since Borussia Dortmund in 2001-02.

    In single-game only finals, this was also the biggest margin of defeat for a German team since Eintracht Frankfurt lost 7-3 to Real Madrid in the 1960 European Cup, perhaps explaining Xhaka's annoyance.

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    Xabi Alonso will not allow Bayer Leverkusen's Europa League final defeat against Atalanta to alter his pride, after their historic 51-game unbeaten run ended on Wednesday.

    The Bundesliga champions were eyeing an unlikely treble, with the DFB-Pokal final to come this weekend, but those plans came crashing down in a 3-0 loss to Atalanta.

    Ademola Lookman single-handedly powered Gian Piero Gasperini's side to their first title in 61 years, producing an individual performance for the ages with a decisive hat-trick.

    European heartbreak marked Leverkusen's first loss this season, with their last defeat coming to Bochum on the last day of the 2022-23 Bundesliga campaign, as Alonso's side were finally stopped.

    Yet the former Liverpool and Bayern Munich midfielder says nothing can take away from Leverkusen's memorable campaign.

    "For me the result today does not change one bit how I feel about my players or what we have been doing," the Leverkusen head coach told TNT Sports.

    "It hurts because we wanted to lift the trophy but you can't have everything. We lifted the Bundesliga and we have the chance to lift the DFB-Pokal on Saturday."

    Leverkusen are the first team to win the league title but lose the UEFA Cup/Europa League final in the same term since Benfica in 2013-14, and the first German side to do since Borussia Dortmund in 2001-02.

    "This season and achievements have surpassed all expectations," Alonso continued.

    "I was hoping and getting ready to maybe do something great but this has been so much more.

    "To achieve what we have for a club like Leverkusen is great. To be in the last week of the season having lifted the Bundesliga and then going for the Pokal too means a lot.

    "First year as a coach, it is going quite well!"

    A monumental occasion at the Aviva Stadium marked Atalanta's first-ever major European trophy as they became the 10th different Italian side to do so, second only to teams from England (13).

    Alonso was unsurprised by the excellence of Gasperini and his Atalanta side, however.

    "It is not something they have just done this year, they have been doing it for many years," the Spaniard said, acknowledging the work of 66-year-old Gasperini.

    "They are a special team. Normally we get in better positions ourselves but today we could not.

    "We were not able to come back and get that back. It was not meant to be.

    "The unbeaten run has come to an end but congratulations to Atalanta, they deserve it, so nothing more to say."

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    Gian Piero Gasperini and Ademola Lookman both cherished creating Atalanta history after ending Bayer Leverkusen's unbeaten run and securing Europa League glory.

    Lookman produced a performance worthy of the most important European moment in Atalanta's history, securing the club's first-ever major trophy on the continent after his dazzling hat-trick.

    The Nigeria winger is just the sixth player to manage a treble in a major UEFA final and the first since Jupp Heynckes’ for Borussia Mönchengladbach against Twente in 1975.

    Lookman will be the toast of Bergamo when Gasperini's side head home, boasting their first trophy in 61 years – after the Coppa Italia – following a 3-0 triumph to end Leverkusen's 51-game unbeaten run.

    "One of the best nights of my life," the hat-trick hero told TNT Sports in Dublin.

    "Amazing performance from the team, we did it, we did it, we did it! I haven't got much else to say, but fantastic."

    Lookman is also just the second player to score a treble for an Italian side in the final of a major European competition, after Pierino Prati for Milan against Ajax in the 1969 European Cup

    Preparing to leave the Aviva Stadium with the Europa League trophy in hand, Lookman could not wait to celebrate a seismic moment in the club's history.

    "We've got to celebrate, we made history tonight," he added.

    Gasperini, aged 66 years and 117 days on Wednesday, is the oldest coach to win his debut major European final, and the second Italian coach to win the Europa League after Maurizio Sarri in 2019.

    The veteran Atalanta mastermind echoed Lookman's sentiment, after securing just a second trophy in the Italian club's history.

    "I think we wrote history, also for the way we won it," said Gasperini, speaking to UEFA's official media channels.

    "It was just extraordinary, we defeated Liverpool, Sporting who won the championship. When we faced Liverpool they were first in the Premier League... And now the German champions.

    "Incredible. The boys were extraordinary, a memorable performance."

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