Dead rubber gives City breathing space

Guardiola can afford to change line-up in inconsequential Champs League match

MANCHESTER • Pep Guardiola has confirmed that he will be making changes for Manchester City's "dead rubber" Champions League Group C clash against Celtic today, but is still undecided whether star striker Sergio Aguero will start.

City are seeking to bounce back after Saturday's ill-tempered 3-1 English Premier League defeat by Chelsea, in which both Aguero and Fernandinho were sent off.

The duo have been banned by the Football Association for domestic matches - four for Aguero and three for Fernandinho - but will be available for the match against Celtic at the Etihad Stadium.

Brendan Rodgers' side have already been eliminated from Europe, while City have secured second spot behind Barcelona, which means that Guardiola has the luxury of giving his players a rest amid a tight schedule.

"There will be changes tomorrow definitely. I'm so happy to give certain people who deserve to play," the City manager said in his pre-match conference yesterday.

"I would like all the players to play. (If possible) I would like four, five, six substitutions - create a new rule.

"Whether Sergio will play or not, I will decide today or tomorrow."

City goalkeeper Willy Caballero added that they would be treating the match seriously even though they are already through to the last 16.

"Just playing in the Champions League is a motivation for every player. It's the most important competition in the world, as a team and as a player," he said.

"We have to respect this kind of game and also we are going to play against a Champions League team so we have to be focused and play in the same way as we did against Borussia (Monchengladbach) and Barcelona."

Rodgers, on the other hand, is hoping that his side can end their Champions League campaign "on a high".

"We know that will be a real huge test. We want to go out with a real good performance. We go into every game to win," he said.

Celtic have picked up only two points from five games and are confirmed to finish bottom of the group regardless of the result.

"Every challenge and every game for us has been different," Rodgers added.

"It's our last game in the Champions League, so we want to go out on a high."

Guardiola has gone four games without a win at the Etihad Stadium but former Barcelona striker Samuel Eto'o insists that the Spaniard is still the best coach in the world.

The Cameroonian, who won the treble under Guardiola at the Nou Camp, said that the 45-year-old will eventually be a success in England.

"Pep has everything to be a success there (at City) and, for me, he's still the best coach in the world," the Antalyaspor striker told Telefoot.

"He always wants his teams to play and he will impose this idea in England.

"His great strength is that he never changes his ideas. Technically, Pep remains the best. There's nothing else to be said."

Another former Barcelona player was also in the spotlight yesterday.

It was reported in the British media that Guardiola has made a personal call to Alexis Sanchez in a bid to convince the Arsenal star to join him at City.

However, the City manager has confirmed during his conference that the rumours are not true.

"Absolutely false. The journalist is a liar," he said.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 06, 2016, with the headline 'Dead rubber gives City breathing space'. Print Edition | Subscribe