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Guardiola defends not starting healthy De Bruyne

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There are a few manners of losing for a manager, and one is when an in-form and up-for-it squad completely overruns yours.

For a managerial wizard like Pep Guardiola, that kind of loss is probably easier to take than Man City’s 1-0 loss to Spurs in Tuesday’s first leg of a UEFA Champions League quarterfinal.

[ MORE: Match recap | Kane hurt | 3 things ]

That’s because Guardiola’s lineups and tactical decisions backfired against a stingy and determined Spurs back line and midfield.

Riyad Mahrez started in place of injured Bernardo and over Leroy Sane . The former Leicester City maestro was poor. Kevin De Bruyne was left out of the XI and Guardiola stubbornly waited until the 89th minute to introduce the Belgian (and Sane).

By that time, with Harry Kane injured and Spurs still finding an opener, the plot was lost.

And with City in a left back injury crisis, Fabian Delph was unable to replicate his left back form of last season, coming in from the cold and looking like it. From The Manchester Evening News:

“I saw him really well in the last few days,” Guardiola said. “After four or five months being injured, two games in four days for Mendy was too much. Bernardo could not play so we played Riyad and he played good especially in the second half when he had someone close to him because in the first half it was not easy for him.”

Guardiola explained the choice to not use De Bruyne, one of the best playmakers in the world, by insisting the player is healthy.

“I decided to play with two holding midfielders in that position, Gundogan and Fernandinho, to be a bit more solid. It’s not the issue. I know it’s tough for him but we have the second leg. We spoke about that. It’s 180 minutes.”

To be fair to Guardiola, a good tactical idea can fail if the players don’t perform well. Maybe Gundogan and Mahrez on their average day meet Aguero converting his penalty and Man City wins 3-1. It’s not like they were completely played out of the stadium.

Guardiola didn’t seem too bothered by the performance, though we have to imagine the room will hear another story. Whether you believe in motivation or momentum or whatever at this stage, there was something about this match that made loose balls and tackles appeal a bit more to Spurs than City. The Tottenham men took their bodies to Man City and the reigning Premier League champions couldn’t adjust to the demands in time to score an away goal.

And like that, Man City is 90 minutes away from looking a lot like Paris Saint-Germain: League monsters — albeit in a better league — that find a way to fail in the latter stages of the one trophy it wants more than the others.

Three things we learned from Spurs defeat of Man City

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It was always going to be a challenge for Pep Guardiola to outfox and Manchester City to outplay Mauricio Pochettino and Tottenham Hotspur three times in just under two weeks.

After Tuesday’s first event, the opening leg of the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal between the Premier League sides, Man City can only be thankful for one thing: That the stinker came first.

[ MORE: Match recap | Kane hurt ]

That’s one of the three things we pulled from Tuesday at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Guardiola asleep at the wheel

Starting Riyad Mahrez over Leroy Sane and leaving Kevin De Bruyne on the bench for Ilkay Gundogan was probably designed to make Man City a bit safer, but instead left the side stale.

Even if you approve of the moves, Guardiola stubbornly refused to announce the failure of either — especially stunning given the poor night for Mahrez — by neither introducing KDB nor Sane until putting them both into the fray in the 89th minute.

On a lesser but deadly note, Guardiola had few options at left back due to injuries but Fabian Delph was carved up by Christian Eriksen and Heung-Min Son on the goal.

Now City may need to blank Spurs in the second leg to advance, and if they concede early in the second leg they will need to score at least three goals to advance. Pep is playing a precarious game.

Sissoko terrific on patrol

City had little going for it all night, and Guardiola’s lineup choices betrayed him almost as much as his hesitancy to substitute early in the 1-0 loss to Spurs.

Moussa Sissoko was again a monster for Tottenham Hotspur. The question for the former Newcastle United man may have always been about his desire to perform on a consistent basis, but he’s long been a man for the bright lights.

And Pochettino has gotten the best out of the French midfielder in recent weeks, the big man a force against a Man City midfield expected to thrive in possession.

Narrator voice: It didn’t.

Lloris keeps his head

Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris had a long time to mull on the idea of stopping a penalty, with Video Assistant Referee taking its sweet time to decide whether Danny Rose handled a ball inside the 18.

So did Sergio Aguero, and the Man City man didn’t get the most of his attempt from the spot but better marks go to the French goalkeeper.

Questioned at times this year, Lloris went in the right direction to stymy one of the Premier League’s greatest all-time scorers and he feels the incident gave his side a big boost even if he didn’t personally see the offense.

“I didn’t see it,” Lloris said. “It is part of the game. We have to accept that. We stayed in the game and it gave us even more energy.”

Bonus notes

Fernandinho is fortunate he didn’t throw the whole leg in the garbage with his three-times silly challenge on Harry Kane early which involved two elbows and a push to the back of the head.

— That pass from Eriksen that led to Son’s goal. Wow.

— The wait for the new stadium was worth it; Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was noticeably loud and exploded after the goal.

Lloris, Son give Spurs lead over Man City (video)

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  • VAR gives Aguero penalty, saved by Lloris
  • Kane injured in clash with Delph (video)
  • Son drills 78th minute goal

With Harry Kane injured, Heung-Min Son delivered the goods for Spurs in a 1-0 first leg defeat of Manchester City in a UEFA Champions League quarterfinal on Tuesday at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

The win came with a price tag: Harry Kane limped off the pitch with another ankle injury.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Dele Alli flashed over goal in the 8th minute when Moussa Sissoko‘s cross was just a half-foot too high for the English attacker.

Spurs then found themselves in a predicament thanks to VAR, as a shot hit the sliding Danny Rose in his arm and Bjorn Kuipers somehow found it to be a penalty.

But Hugo Lloris saved Sergio Aguero’s bid to make it 1-0 from the spot!

Ederson made his presence felt with a save on Harry Kane in the 24th, both keepers were something to do in the first half hour.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Lloris parried a Sterling shot in the early stages of the second half, and Spurs cleared the danger. Heung-min Son forced Ederson into a comfortable save at the other end.

Harry Kane had to leave the match after Fabian Delph stepped on the striker’s ankle in the follow-through of a clearance. Innocuous, but costly.

Son’s wayward touch of a delightfully chipped Christian Eriksen pass took him away from goal, but the South Korea drilled a low shot between the legs of Ederson for a late 1-0 lead.

Kane injures ankle in UEFA Champions League clash (video)

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One of the only ways to slow Harry Kane has been the player’s ankles, and injury has again claimed playing time for the big English striker.

Kane was charging to challenge a Fabian Delph clearance in Tottenham Hotspur’s UEFA Champions League quarterfinal first leg in North London Tuesday.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

https://twitter.com/btsportfootball/status/1115730793937145856

After Delph hit the ball, his foot connected with Kane’s ankle.

The Englishman crumpled to the turf and had trouble putting weight on the ankle as he limped off the pitch.

Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino was livid with Delph, though the play looked innocuous from multiple angles.

Preview and Prediction: 4 Premier League sides meet in FA Cup semifinals

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Four Premier League sides are all that remain in the FA Cup as the semifinals get under way Saturday and Sunday.

Manchester City meets Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday, with Watford v. Wolverhampton to contest the second meeting a day later. The winners of both matches will meet in the final at Wembley Stadium on May 18.

The first match up features Pep Guardiola looking to keep his side in the running for the unprecedented quadruple. In addition to the FA Cup still in play, City has already won the League Cup, trail Premier League leaders Liverpool by two points with a game in hand, and begin Champions League quarterfinals against Tottenham midweek.

For Brighton, the Seagulls have been to one Cup final in the club’s history, back in 1983 when they reached the FA Cup final, losing to Manchester United at Wembley. They fell 2-0 to Manchester City in this season’s only meeting so far, way back in late September in the midst of Man City’s incredible start to the season.

To make matters even more daunting for Brighton, they will have to contend with a near-fully fit Manchester City squad. Other than long-term injuries to Claudio Bravo and Benjamin Mendy, the only injuries for City is a knock to Fabian Delph and a new hamstring injury for Olkesandr Zinchenko. Sergio Aguero is back from his slight knock, but might not start the match.

Prediction: While Brighton is a much different side from when these two teams met back in September, Manchester City is not. They are still as dominant as ever, and the healthy squad has enough players to rotate through the four competitions and still maintain its edge. City wins 3-0.

On Sunday, Watford meets Wolverhampton Wanderers for the second time this season, with the first meeting also back in the fall. Watford won 2-0 in a game that began Wolves’ ugly six-game slide. Wolves will head to Vicarage Road a very different team than on that October day, fighting for a Europa League position and having stunned Manchester United twice over the last few weeks.

Starting Sunday, these two teams will be seeing enough of each other over the final few weeks of the campaign. While they still have a Premier League fixture remaining as well, they’re both battling hard for a Europa League position, separated by just a single point in the table. Winning the FA Cup would go a long way towards easing that burden, but should neither make it, the battle to the finish line will be bitter, and this meeting could be the warm up for that game on April 27 back here at Vicarage Road yet again.

Wolves brings a squad with them that won’t be phased by the bright lights, with the internationally experienced Joao Moutinho and Rui Patricio leading the way along with stars Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota who have Champions League games under their belts. They also have a completely clean bill of health, a valuable asset heading into a pressure-filled run-in to the season. Watford will be without Tom Cleverley due to a hamstring injury, while Roberto Pereyra is a game-time decision after coming off against Fulham.

It’s been a while for both these clubs, with Watford last reaching Wembley in this competition in 1984, their only time having done so. Wolves last made an FA Cup final 1960, and they’ve lost four in a row at this stage.

Prediction: This is a fascinating matchup between two equally talented teams. Wolves has the experience advantage, but Watford is at home. This one goes to penalties after a 1-1 draw, and Wolves keeps its cool and comes out on top in the shootout.