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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    Former Manchester City goalkeeper David James hails Pep Guardiola for "doing remarkable things" but believes he is still not at Alex Ferguson’s level.

    City became the first team in Premier League history to win four consecutive titles with their 3-1 win over West Ham on Sunday, pipping Arsenal to the crown by two points.

    Manchester United had previously won three consecutive Premier League seasons, achieving the feat twice under Ferguson (1998-2001 and 2006-2009).

    Guardiola’s side can create more history on Saturday as they aim to clinch unprecedented back-to-back league and FA Cup doubles against the Red Devils.

    Asked if this achievement put Guardiola’s name alongside Ferguson’s as the best Premier League manager, James, who spent two years with City, disagreed.

    "No, Fergie's still the best. Look at statistics and longevity," James told Stats Perform. "And even more so, since Fergie left, what's happened to Manchester United.

    "You can't even blame or use the excuse he had a good team and did well with it, Fergie rode the waves, he was up and down and even these downs weren't particularly bad.

    "I think third or fourth was probably the worst they ever did; Fergie was the best and Pep will have to hang around for another decade, I think, before he can actually challenge that position.

    "But what we're seeing at the moment, you've got a different style of football, a different type of game in so many different ways. The way the league is constructed at the moment with other competitions around it, Pep is having to do different things to what Fergie may have had to do.

    "I know Fergie was a great manager, but not necessarily the greatest coach. Pep is a great manager and a great coach. He's also got an extra string to his bow in that sense.

    "To be the winner of that league four years in a row, you need to be a superb manager. And I think Pep, in this short time frame, is doing some remarkable things, but he's going to have to hang around for a lot longer to take Ferguson's crown."

    Following their victory over West Ham, Guardiola stated that he was "closer to leaving than staying", raising speculation that next season could be his last.

    "I think the big question for Pep, and it is logical that he will now become the focus given that Jurgen Klopp announced his departure a few months ago, and all of a sudden it was nothing, but Jurgen and he will be the next focus," James added.

    "I think the thing for Pep is, what does he want to do as a person? And it's not that he's completed the treble and that's enough because I think that he would want to do a treble treble, you want to do a quadruple.

    "I can see that competitive side in him, he doesn't seem to change on the sidelines. Even yesterday, when they conceded the goal, and it was a fantastic goal from Kudus, he wasn't happy.

    "I think you can still see that he's still animated, still engaged with the game. There's no question that he's feeling tired in that sense.

    "I would like him to stay. I would like him to stay because I think when you've got someone so good, you need someone to beat them legitimately rather than them just step away and allow everyone else to play.

    "I think he should stay. And I'm sure City will do everything they can to keep him in charge for the foreseeable future."

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    "We have to believe in our philosophy, play attacking football and try to beat them. You don't win a trophy if you don't beat the best.

    "We have had a great campaign, and we fully deserve to be here. Both sides deserve to be playing this final. Let's see who will manage to lift the trophy.

    Atalanta narrowly missed out in the Coppa Italia final to Juventus earlier this month, and Gian Piero Gasperini is now preparing to manage his first-ever European final.

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    He said: "We are aware that we are facing a great team. We know that they are undefeated, and we know that they have had an amazing season.

    "Our journey, however, was also very good as we beat very strong teams to reach the final, and we also have belief.

    "Leverkusen are a complete team; extremely organised. They are versatile, they can defend and recover the ball well.

    "The results they have achieved this season are not an accident. Certainly, small details can make the difference in a final. We have to respect them and try to adapt quickly to the opponents we are facing."

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    Leverkusen are chasing the second trophy in a potential treble against Atalanta in Dublin on Wednesday, with the DFB-Pokal final against Kaiserslautern to follow on Saturday.

    The Bundesliga champions became the first German team to go unbeaten on their way to the title and are currently on a 51-match run without defeat in all competitions.

    Alonso is taking charge of his first European final as a manager, but he believes his team will draw on the experience they have already gained this season.

    "Our self-confidence keeps driving us on. We know that we can produce goals until the final minute," he said in his pre-match press conference. "That's a huge development that the team has made this season.

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    Alonso is the youngest coach to manage a men’s European final since Roberto Di Matteo oversaw Chelsea’s Champions League victory in 2012.

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    Reflecting on his time at Leverkusen, Alonso said: "I was so young in this coach career, so when I was offered the Leverkusen job, so it was 'let's go, let's see what happens'.

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    "I think we have great chemistry.  The mentality we have shown throughout the year has been fantastic. I am really enjoying it."

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