MANCHESTER, United Kingdom, Feb 16 – Pep Guardiola has insisted his Manchester City players cannot afford to have an eye on the Champions League and the League Cup final ahead of their FA Cup tie away to Welsh minnows Newport County on Saturday.
Premier League leaders City take on the side currently 15th in League Two, the fourth tier of English football and 82 places below them on the league pyramid, for a place in the quarter-finals.
As City chase glory on four fronts, it would be easy to class this as a straightforward assignment with tougher tests lying in wait.
But City manager Guardiola is not prepared to do that, Newport’s recent FA Cup pedigree ensuring he is taking nothing for granted.
The small, atmospheric Rodney Parade is a throwback of a ground with two stands open to the elements and plenty of terracing, while the pitch has to cope with one football team, two rugby union sides and the rain of South Wales.
While the team may languish in League Two, Michael Flynn’s side have beaten Premier League Leicester and Middlesbrough of the Championship to earn this lucrative tie with reigning English champions City.
So there are enough warning signs for City not to be complacent, even though they face Schalke in the first leg of their last-16 tie in the Champions League on Wednesday and then Chelsea at Wembley in the League Cup final four days later.
But if Guardiola spots anything he does not like from his players, they can forget about appearing in those more high-profile fixtures.
“I expect the best performance by each one of them,” he said. “Focus on all the details. That is the best way to prepare for Schalke and the League Cup final.
“When you want to play a final in one week, or a tough game in the Champions League, the best way to prepare is to make a good game.”
The Spaniard added: “The players have to risk. It would be a problem for them if they don’t risk and play like a professional to win the game.
“If they think about the next game, maybe the next one they stay here (in England) and they don’t travel to Germany.
“In those situations, I’m not a sweet guy. They have to take it seriously and play the game like it deserves.”
– ‘Mahrez’s time is coming’ –
One player expected to feature against Newport is City’s record-signing at £60 million ($77 million, 68 million euros), Riyad Mahrez.
The Algerian has not started a Premier League match in 2019 but his manager insists that is no fault of Mahrez, but is simply a reflection of the outstanding form shown by some of City’s other attacking stars.
“He is absolutely not guilty,” said Guardiola. “I am sad because he is training incredibly and is an incredibly talented player.
“But we have people like Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling in top, top form and that is the only reason why.
“Riyad is a guy we are happy with, but unfortunately I am not kind with him and I cannot give him the minutes he deserves,” added Guardiola of the former Leicester favourite.
“If he had played the same minutes that the others had played he would have been in the top level. It’s not easy to come in and play at a high, high level for a guy who is not playing regularly.
“I don’t have any doubts about his quality. He just has to keep going, not complain too much, move forward and fight more because his time is coming.”
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