Fabian Delph

AP Photo/Frank Augstein

Guardiola defends not starting healthy De Bruyne

1 Comment

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.

Man City has left back problem ahead of FA Cup, UCL, league congestion

Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Pep Guardiola‘s left back options are limited for a crucial stretch which includes matches across three competitions.

Oleksandr Zinchenko limped off the pitch in Wednesday’s win over Cardiff City, and Guardiola says “it doesn’t look good” for the Ukranian’s chances to feature in this weekend’s FA Cup semifinal against Brighton and Hove Albion.

[ MORE: Weah scores Celtic winner ]

Benjamin Mendy‘s been out for much of the season and Fabian Delph is also unavailable. And, really, Guardiola has favored Zinchenko in his system. Zinchenko has gone 90 minutes in each of City’s last six Premier League matches (which is odd considering the manager appeared ready to move him).

“He is important for us,” Guardiola said. “He knows the way we want to play but it is what it is. … It happens during the season and he plays a lot of minutes, but we will find a solution. Danilo fought a lot in that position, but it is not his natural one. We will find a solution.”

It could be Aymeric Laporte, who’s played a few times at left back for City, but Guardiola loves to use the Frenchman in the middle of his defense.

City is 9-0 when Zinchenko starts this season, and the reigning champions follow up the FA Cup semi with three matches against Tottenham and a fourth versus Crystal Palace.

World Cup players juggle national team and fatherhood

Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MOSCOW (AP) Having a baby is even more important than playing in the World Cup for some.

Three dads-to-be have made trips home from Russia to welcome a child, with the blessing of coaches and teammates.

[ MORE: Real denies Neymar offer ]

On Tuesday, Fabian Delph will likely miss England’s match against Colombia in the round of 16 while awaiting the birth of his third child.

“Some things in life are more important than football,” England coach Gareth Southgate said Monday. “His focus needs to be with his family at this time.”

Southgate echoed a view of parenting that runs through the World Cup.

Switzerland forward Breel Embolo is preparing to face Sweden on Tuesday after dashing home within hours of a 2-2 draw with Costa Rica last week. The 21-year-old Embolo saw his daughter born and described it as “the most beautiful 24 hours” of his life.

The family-friendly trend was started by Denmark’s players, who helped send teammate Jonas Knudsen home in a private jet. Knudsen’s daughter was not due until after the tournament, but the team wanted him to see her right away.

“It’s a bit of perspective in life,” Southgate said. “Everybody says you only get one chance to be in a World Cup but also there’s only one day in your life where your children are born.”

In soccer, players fulfil their family duties at the discretion of team leaders.

Paternity leave is mandated in Major League Baseball. A rule was passed in 2011 allowing teams to place a player on the paid paternity leave list for 1-3 days if he is “the father of a child whose delivery or adoption is imminent or has occurred within the prior 48 hours.”

[ MORE: Kovacic, Plea in PL transfer links ]

The rule did not spare then-New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy in April 2014 from criticism on sports radio for taking two days off with his wife and newborn son.

However, the backlash against radio hosts Boomer Esiason and Mike Francesa – who said Murphy could “hire a nurse” if his wife needed help beyond one day – showed that athletes have public support to be good fathers.

In 2013, golfer Hunter Mahan won praise for leaving a tournament he led by two shots to return home for the unexpectedly early birth of his first child.

“Thanks to all to my sponsors who appreciate what’s important in life and all my fans for being Awesome!” Mahan wrote on his Twitter account.

It was not always so in soccer. A notorious English case in 1989 saw a player with Queen’s Park Rangers fined two weeks’ salary for missing an away game to attend a birth.

The manager who ordered the fine, for England player Trevor Francis, was fired soon after.

The subject is still a dilemma for Sweden captain Andreas Granqvist, who on Tuesday is set to play against Switzerland in what is likely his last World Cup at the age of 33. Granqvist has stayed in Russia with the approval of his wife, Sofie, who is overdue to give birth to their second child in Sweden.

“I’m fully focused on the game tomorrow and my wife is very strong,” Granqvist said Monday.

Southgate acknowledged his decision to release Delph, who played in England’s two previous games, would not always have been approved.

“My father’s generation and those before them would view that differently,” said the England coach, who is building a reputation for smart and thoughtful handling of his players. “But you have got to be there for your family.”

More AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

England international Delph expecting child in middle of World Cup

Getty Images
Leave a comment

England international Fabian Delph could face quite the dilemma if England advances past the group stage of the World Cup.

Delph’s wife Natalie is expecting the couple’s third child on June 30, which is two days after their pivotal group stage match against Belgium, and two days before the squad would take the field July 1 for its Round of 16 game should they win Group G. If they finish second in the group, they would play their Round of 16 game on July 3.

When asked what his plans are, Delph joked that his wife would manage on her own. “She’s tough, she’s a Yorkshire lass so she’ll deal with it,” Delph said with a smile.

He then coughed up the truth: they’re not quite sure what the plan is.

“We’re not 100% certain, with a game on the 28th there might be an opportunity to fly back and then get back fast,” he said. “[England manager] Gareth [Southgate] has been fantastic. There’s nothing more important than family to me – family always comes first and always will.”

There’s another dilemma that Southgate must navigate involving Delph. The 28-year-old is a natural winger, but played wing-back in Pep Guardiola‘s title-winning system for much of the year and saw a massive uptick in form in the new role, playing in place of the injured Benjamin Mendy. Southgate must decide where he wants to deploy Delph – if at all – and if he wishes to fit his formation and tactics to mold Delph’s season under Guardiola.

Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester City’s quest for the historic quadruple is over after Pep Guardiola‘s 10-man side was shocked by League One side Wigan Athletic in the fifth round of the FA Cup at the DW Stadium on Monday.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Will Grigg scored the game’s only goal, a late winner after the home side had been thoroughly outplayed and out-possessed for 78 minutes. With 45 places currently standing between them in the English football pyramid — and Man City garnering “best of all time” consideration — “upset” doesn’t even begin to describe Monday’s result.

On the other hand, City represent the third Premier League side knocked out of this season’s FA Cup at the hands of Wigan: Bournemouth, in the third round; followed by West Ham United, in the fourth.

City were reduced to 10 men during first-half stoppage time, when Fabian Delph went flying in on Max Power as the two contested a 50-50 ball inside Wigan’s defensive third. Referee Anthony Taylor initially withdrew his yellow card from his pocket, but protests from the aggrieved party appeared to change Taylor’s mind, and Delph was off.

Prior to Deplh’s dismissal, Wigan had done well  enoughto hold their own against the runaway PL leaders. The Latics had a pair of half-chances, most notably through Grigg in the 12th minute, that could have easily gone their way. Much of the play, though, as is to be expected, was controlled by City (first-half possession: 82 percent), though Guardiola’s men were unable to break through before going a man down.

Still, the share of possession remain unchanged throughout the entirety of the second half, as City patiently probed and used possession as their best means of defense… until the 79th minute arrived.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

The ball was played back to Kyle Walker, into space; rather than receiving the ball at first opportunity, Walker let it run on as he prepared to play it back to Claudio Bravo; Grigg saw his opening and pounced quickly; his first touch used his body to shield Walker from the ball, and his second set up the shot; Grigg went for the far post, curling the ball around Bravo and nestling it just inside the post.

Wigan will now host another PL side, Southampton, in the quarterfinals.