London, United Kingdom | AFP | Pep Guardiola is anxious to play down suggestions that winning his first piece of silverware for Manchester City in Sunday’s League Cup final against Arsenal would herald a period of dominance.
The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach takes his side to Wembley with the Premier League title virtually in the bag and a place in the Champions League quarter-finals looking certain.
But despite City’s dominance this season, Guardiola will be eager to get his hands on a trophy, even if it would have been fourth on the list of his priorities when the campaign began.
City are clear favourites to beat Arsenal but Arsene Wenger’s men have made a habit of cup success in recent years, winning the FA Cup in three of the past four seasons.
“Not even in Barcelona when we won the first title in the cup did I expect to win 14 titles in four years,” said Guardiola, anxious not to over-burden his players. “I’m more pragmatic.
“I think in football it’s a big mistake to think what might happen in the next three years. It’s a big mistake for our heads, our targets, it makes no sense.
“When people asked in the beginning, about winning four titles (this season), I said of course we’ll try, but the big teams have not been able to do that — the big Liverpools, the big Uniteds, the big Arsenals, the big Chelseas.”
Defeat for City could lead to a certain feeling of anti-climax at the Etihad as it would follow hot on the heels of their FA Cup exit at the hands of lowly Wigan Athletic — ending their quest for an historic quadruple.
– Shock Jesus return? –
Striker Gabriel Jesus could make a shock return at Wembley after being out with a knee injury since the end of December, although there are doubts over Raheem Sterling’s fitness.
Guardiola confirmed second-choice goalkeeper Claudio Bravo will start, having done so in all domestic cup matches this season, but Fabian Delph is suspended after being sent off against Wigan.
The Catalan boss earlier this season questioned the value of the League Cup, saying “you waste a lot of energy” but it could serve as a springboard to further success, as it has done previously for the likes of Jose Mourinho.
Wenger has won the FA Cup a record seven times since he took the helm at Arsenal but has twice been beaten in the final of the League Cup, by Chelsea in 2007 and Birmingham City in 2011.
The French manager was asked at his pre-match press conference what the key was to beating City.
“To first of all have a strong belief that we can do it, be well-organised and take every opportunity to go forward and play our offensive game,” he said.
He acknowledged the threat from players such as Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne but said it was difficult to focus on shutting down individuals.
“One of the big strengths of Man City is De Bruyne of course, because he has become a very complete player,” Wenger said.
“He is a modern midfielder for me, he can be decisive in the final third, he works very hard, he is right-footed, left-footed and he is a fighter as well so overall I am not surprised he has done well.
“They have so many players that you have to stop that it is better to focus on the team plan rather than on any individual.”
Alexandre Lacazette is unavailable because of injury and Henrikh Mkhitaryan is ineligible because he played in the competition for Manchester United earlier this season.
Wenger said David Ospina would play in goal at the expense of Petr Cech, continuing his role as the go-to ‘keeper for cup matches.
He said Mesut Ozil was likely to play and he would make a decision on Aaron Ramsey on Saturday.