Pep Guardiola looks for help from fans as Manchester City aim for top-four spot
Pep Guardiola has called on fans to roar Manchester City into the Champions League and give Pablo Zabaleta a fitting send-off.
City take on West Brom in their final home game of the season on Tuesday looking for three points to tighten their grip on a top-four position in the Premier League. Their place in Europe’s top club competition could even be confirmed if Arsenal drop points in their clash against Sunderland on the same night.
If selected, the visit of the Baggies will also mark long-serving full-back Zabaleta’s final appearance at the Etihad Stadium. The Argentinian, who joined City in 2008, announced at the weekend he will move on in the summer.
City boss Guardiola said: “Nine years here – to replace that you need a guy that stays nine years here. For that you need time and it is not easy.
“His impact here was amazing. He was one of the first players to come here. What he and other guys did for the club, helped (make) this club what it is right now. That is why he deserves the best last game here at home.
“Hopefully all the fans can come tomorrow to the Etihad Stadium. We play for a lot of important things, so they have to come to support us more than ever and to express the gratitude to one of the most important players in the whole history of Manchester City.
“It will be an important day for many reasons. One of them, of course, for Pablo.”
West Brom have enjoyed a strong campaign but form has deserted them in recent weeks. Pulis’ men remain eighth in the table but they have won just one of their last 10 games.
With the stakes high for City, however, Guardiola insists his side can take nothing for granted.
He said: “They are professionals. They are going to play to win the games. Teams of Tony Pulis, from his history with Stoke and West Brom, never play games thinking they don’t matter.
“It will be a football game. We play for a lot of things, (it is) a real final for us and we are going to be ready for this game.”
City may also need to take points from their final game at Watford on Sunday to secure their top-four spot.
Because of that, Guardiola does not yet want to discuss how he may reshape his squad for next season or the remaining contract issues within his group.
That includes the situation of Yaya Toure, despite strong suggestions at the weekend the influential midfielder could be offered a new deal.
As well as Toure and Zabaleta, Jesus Navas, Willy Caballero, Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna and Tosin Adarabioyo are out of contract this summer. The futures of the loaned out Joe Hart, Wilfried Bony, Samir Nasri, Eliaquim Mangala and Jason Denayer are also uncertain.
Speaking at a press conference, Guardiola said: “Tomorrow is important for what happens next season. It is so important to focus on the present.
“I know you are curious to know what will happen and if we didn’t play for anything we would announce it but, I have said so many times, at the end of the season we will speak about that situation.”
Top scorer Sergio Aguero could return to the starting line-up, while defender John Stones (groin) is also in contention.
However, midfielders Fabian Delph (leg) and Ilkay Gundogan (knee), and goalkeeper Claudio Bravo (calf) are out.
Meanwhile, West Brom boss Pulis has defended Guardiola following a trophyless first season in England for the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager.
“It takes time for a manager to settle in and get what he wants, you can’t do it in one season or two transfer windows,” said Pulis.
“So after one season it’s difficult to judge and I’m sure Pep will be determined to be closer next season – in all the tournaments.
“Every club is run different and every club you pick up is in a different state, and I can’t talk about other club’s situations. Perhaps Pep felt he couldn’t develop that group into what he wants and he wants other people in to do it and get exactly what he wants.”
Gareth McAuley was forced off against Chelsea on Friday night with an injury and will not recover in time for Tuesday’s trip.
Striker Hal Robson-Kanu will have his hamstring problem assessed but winger Matty Phillips will remain sidelined by his hamstring issue.