Pep Guardiola changes focus as Manchester City bid to retain the FA Cup

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - It is Manchester City’s first game after relinquishing a title. Perhaps typically, they are chasing another.

They can no longer call themselves champions of England but they remain FA Cup holders, a distinction they hope to retain at least for another year.

“Right now, it is a priority because it is the next game and we can get Wembley again in the semi-final,” said Pep Guardiola.

A trip to Newcastle returns him to something of a bogey ground. City drew 2-2 at St James’ Park in November, despite a shot count of 24-6. They lost there 2-1 last season when they had 76 per cent of possession.

“Newcastle have the weapons to punish us,” said Guardiola, though the objective may be to turn domination into goals.

In a sense, it has been a theme of the season. City have been outstanding at times – indeed, they had spells of brilliance in losing to Chelsea on Thursday – but there have been too many games where they have failed to capitalise.

The contrast with the relentless champions has been apparent to Guardiola.

“I remember the way we dropped points in the second game in the league against Tottenham,” he said. Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs had three shots to City’s 30 in August’s 2-2 draw.

“It was many, many things in the beginning where we drop points and it was a little bit tricky and Liverpool didn’t make any mistakes,” Guardiola reflected.

City had claimed 198 points in the previous two campaigns, winning 64 of 76 league games. Logically, that was unsustainable. That winning habit was sustained, but by Liverpool.

“It was not the perfect season for us after what happened in the previous two seasons with the consistency but there are teams that were worse than us,” said Guardiola.

Manchester City's Rodri celebrates after scoring his team's second goal in the League Cup final against Aston Villa at Wembley in March. City will now try and add the Fa Cup and the Champions League to their haul. Reuters

Rodri celebrates scoring Manchester City's second goal. City beat Villa 2-1 to win the League Cup title on March 1. Reuters

Manchester City midfielder Rodri celebrates after scoring his team's second goal. AFP

Manchester City midfielder Phil Foden takes on Aston Villa full-back Matt Targett during the League Cup final. Reuters

Manchester City's Raheem Sterling rides a challenge from Aston Villa's Bjorn Engels. Reuters

Manchester City's Raheem Sterling is shown a yellow card by referee Lee Mason. Reuters

Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne comes on as a substitute to replace Ilkay Gundogan. Reuters

Manchester City's Raheem Sterling fouls Aston Villa's Frederic Guilbert. Reuters

An Aston Villa fan holds a tin foil trophy up prior to the League Cup Final between Aston Villa and Manchester City. Getty Images

Manchester City midfielder Rodri climbs to win a header from Aston Villa striker Mbwana Samatta. AFP

Mbwana Samatta of Aston Villa celebrates after scoring his sides first goal. Getty Images

Aston Villa defender Tyrone Mings jumps to defend a corner. AFP

Manchester City's Sergio Aguero, left, celebrates after scoring his side's first goal. AP Photo

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola gives directions to his players. AP Photo

“It is so difficult to do what we have done in the most difficult league in the world but you cannot win all the time.”

City have been more inconsistent. It offers scope for improvement but Liverpool’s levels have been remarkable.

“They lose one game and draw [two] so you have to congratulate them: hats off,” added Guardiola. Words will be backed up with deeds and City will give Liverpool a guard of honour at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday.

“There was one team that was exceptional and when one team is exceptional, learn from them and congratulate them. It is simple. We know the reason why we suffered this season and we are going to try and solve it next season.”

Defensive absentees are one factor and City will be without the injured John Stones and the banned Fernandinho on Sunday.

But the fact their points tally has decreased is not, he was quick to point out, due to a lack of desire on the part of his players. Serial winners had not grown complacent with success.

“A team that wins eight titles in the last three years has passion, in every single game, in every competition, everywhere,” he said.

It is not as simple as saying Liverpool wanted it more. “I don’t know the passion of Liverpool. I imagine what happens when you have 30 years without winning the Premier League and have won the Champions League.”

The Champions League focuses City’s thoughts and not merely because they have an August rematch with Real Madrid.

Arsene Wenger used to insist that fourth place is like a trophy and Guardiola, considering the strength in depth in England agrees.

“Qualification for the Champions League is maybe the second most important title in a season and we are close to achieving it,” he said.

But his side could still win three actual trophies. Including the FA Cup.

Updated: June 28, 2020 07:09 AM

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