Pep eyes West Brom 'final' to mark Zabaleta's farewell

LONDON • Pep Guardiola has told his Manchester City players to be on their guard as they face West Bromwich Albion in a crucial Premier League match tonight.

City need four points from their remaining two games against West Brom and Watford to guarantee Champions League qualification in Guardiola's first season in England.

Both opponents are safe in mid-table and Guardiola's top-four rival Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, said on Monday that "some teams are on holiday".

But the Spaniard is not anticipating an easy ride against West Brom, despite the visitors having gone almost two months without a win.

"They are professionals, they will play to win," Guardiola said at a press conference yesterday. "Tony Pulis' teams don't play thinking it doesn't matter. It's a real final for us, and we are going to be ready.

"Our game tomorrow is a final and next Sunday (against Watford) is a final. We played two finals against Crystal Palace and Leicester, we have two more and hopefully the players are focused and committed."

Today's match will be filled with emotion as City defender Pablo Zabaleta will make his last appearance at the Etihad Stadium.

The Argentinian full-back is leaving City when his contract expires at the end of the season, with Premier League rivals West Ham the 32-year-old's likeliest destination.

Guardiola yesterday called on fans to make it a special occasion.

"I have a lot of respect for Pablo," Guardiola said. "His impact here has been amazing. Nine years he has been here. To replace that you need someone who has been here for nine years. That is a long time, and so it is not easy.

"He was the first player to come here when the owners arrived. He has helped the club to where it is right now. He deserves all of the fans to come to the West Brom game.

"I hope all the fans can come to support us, as we are playing for a lot of important things, but also so they can express gratitude for one of the most important players in the history of Manchester City."

While Zabaleta will feature as City look to complete the season in fine style, midfielder Fabian Delph will be unavailable. Delph has not played since the victory over Hull on April 8 and will miss the season's conclusion.

Centre-back John Stones, however, has recovered from a muscle problem that has kept him out of action since April 8.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MAN CITY V WEST BROM

Singtel TV Ch102 & StarHub Ch227, tomorrow, 3am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2017, with the headline 'Pep eyes West Brom 'final' to mark Zabaleta's farewell'. Print Edition | Subscribe