EPL

Guardiola pledges no sentiment as Aguero battles for fond City farewell

By Sports Desk May 17, 2021

Pep Guardiola will be "cold" with his Manchester City players as they jockey for selection ahead of the Champions League final.

City travel to Brighton and Hove Albion on Tuesday for the penultimate game of their triumphant Premier League campaign, before lifting the trophy in front of their fans against Everton on Sunday.

Sergio Aguero will hope to bid farewell to the Etihad Stadium faithful at the weekend in his last home game before departing in the close season, although the injury woes that have ruined the Argentina striker's final campaign in Manchester have returned and he will not travel to the Amex Stadium.

"He has niggles. He's a little bit disturbed in his leg, his adductor," Guardiola said.

"He felt something before the Newcastle game. He's still not fit. Hopefully he’ll be ready to play against Everton."

Sentiment might enter Guardiola's thinking on the final weekend of the domestic season, but he will be all business in Porto on May 29, when City take on Chelsea in a bid for their first European trophy for 51 years.

"I would say I would be cold. I have to take a decision which is the best to win that game," he said.

"If Sergio is fit, he is going to help us, that is for sure. If he is going to help us score goals, he is going to play, but it's the final of the Champions League.

"I have to take the decision that gives us the best chance of winning that game."

For forwards like Aguero or Ferran Torres – who staked his claim with an excellent hat-trick in the 4-3 win at Newcastle United – any hopes of selection at Estadio do Dragao might be forlorn, given City's progress through the knockout rounds relied largely upon deploying the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden, Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan in a striker-less formation.

However, after the victory at St James' Park, Guardiola intriguingly said he has "two options" for the final and on Monday he stated selection was more up in the air than in his 2009 and 2011 Champions League triumphs with Barcelona.

"Always it was difficult but always I remember the first XI of Barcelona was clear," he said.

"Here we rotate a lot and everybody can play, so still right now I am not clear the way we are going to play and with who we are going to play, so that’s why I have to take a look these 10, 11 days. After, we have to take the decision.

"This is the toughest moment. That is why the relationship between the players and the manager has to have a little bit of distance.

"You cannot have that close a relationship because you have to take decisions that take part in their careers and sometimes I am unfair to them, but it is what it is. I don't have another solution."

Nevertheless, none of this has stopped plenty of training ground pleasantries over recent days, with Guardiola knowing this is not simply as a result of spirits riding high after being crowned champions last week.

"They listen a little bit more. It's a serious point, they’re not stupid," he chuckled. "They want to play, so they are nicer to me.

"Then I will make a selection and they will be who they are normally: grumpy, upset with me. That's normal."

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    Roberto Mancini's Italy opened the rescheduled European Championship with a commanding 3-0 victory over Turkey in Rome on Friday.

    Italy – enjoying a resurgence under head coach Mancini following their failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup – are in the midst of a 28-match unbeaten streak as they prepare for Wednesday's clash with Switzerland in the Italian capital.

    The 1968 European champions have kept a clean sheet in each of their last nine matches in all competitions, going 875 minutes without conceding since a Donny van de Beek goal for the Netherlands last October – Italy have not kept 10 consecutive clean sheets since doing so between November 1989 and June 1990.

    "We believe in it, that's our target, we hit rock bottom by not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, and now we want to win this competition," Torino's Belotti told UEFA.com.

    "We know we can do it, but we need to keep our feet on the ground and work together, focused on the target, in every game. That's the only way we can reach the final."

    Italy have lost only one of their 24 games against Switzerland on Italian soil (W18 D5) – a friendly defeat at the Stadio Olimpico in 1982, in what was the country's first game after being crowned world champions three months prior.

    Victory will see Italy become the first team to reach the knockout stages of Euro 2020. However, the Italians have won both of their opening two matches in just two of their nine previous appearances at the European Championship, doing so in 2000 and 2016.

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  • Man Utd's transfer budget not impacted by debt – Glazer Man Utd's transfer budget not impacted by debt – Glazer

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    But the Barcelona great's Copa America performances against Chile prior to Monday's curtain-raising clash were not entirely out of keeping with the rest of his Argentina career.

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    That was one of seven Messi shots and he played four key passes, too. On paper, this ranked alongside Neymar's efforts.

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    Messi's excellence has excused a whole generation of Argentina internationals, absolved of blame because their great number 10 should have been able to win major tournaments alone.

    Too many hugely talented players have misfired on the big stage; Lionel Scaloni sent out some past and present examples.

    Lautaro Martinez is supposed to be the face of a young, new team. He had 11 goals in 23 prior internationals and should have added to that tally more than once in Rio de Janeiro.

    The Inter forward failed to hit the target with any of his three attempts and optimistically appealed for a foul following two of them when he inexplicably missed from point-blank range.

    And Martinez's frustration unfortunately came to the fore after 62 minutes when he lunged into an awful challenge on Charles Aranguiz under the nose of the referee and escaped with a booking.

    The 23-year-old's evening might have ended early with a red card. Instead, it was cut short by the introduction of Sergio Aguero.

    Chile had equalised five minutes prior to Martinez's moment of madness, one of a series of rash attempted tackles punished as a VAR review found Nicolas Tagliafico had made contact with Arturo Vidal in the area.

    Vidal took the penalty and Emiliano Martinez turned it onto the crossbar, but Eduardo Vargas was on hand to nod in his 13th Copa America goal – staying three clear of Messi and climbing into the top 10 all-time.

    Aguero followed Angel Di Maria onto the pitch as Argentina sought a response. Both players were not so long ago out of the picture under Scaloni, having previously been part of the Messi-led team that repeatedly came up short.

    In each Chile final, Di Maria started. Aguero was introduced from the bench in one and in the XI for the other.

    As on those occasions, there were no heroics from either on Monday. Di Maria, now 33, had two shots but neither troubled Bravo. Aguero, also 33, was caught offside once.

    Messi will be the story if Argentina do not deliver silverware in the coming weeks, just as he will be should they finally get over the hump.

    But the same problems persist. When Messi's free-kick set the stage, it was Martinez who could not step up, underwhelming again like too many past Argentina attackers.

    If this is to be the tournament in which Messi reaches his promised land, he is going to need some help.

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