Guardiola sharpens knife for City clear out

Manchester City’s Spanish manager Pep Guardiola gestures on the touchline during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on December 18, 2016.<br />Paul ELLIS / AFP

Pep Guardiola says he has made his mind up on the futures of Manchester City’s seven out-of-contract players, but added that they will have to wait until the end of the season to find out.

Yaya Toure, Gael Clichy, Pablo Zabaleta, Bacary Sagna, Willy Caballero, Jesus Navas and Tosin Adarabioyo have yet to discover if Guardiola will keep them on for next season.

However, City’s manager has made clear that he only wants focus on the final three matches of the season, starting with Saturday’s home game against Leicester, as his side try to secure Champions League qualification.

Asked if he had spoken to any of the seven players about their futures, Guardiola said: “No.”

He did, however, make clear that their fates have been sealed, adding: “It does not depend if they play the last three games.

“The decision is already made. We are going to communicate after the season. I know in my mind.”

Toure, who has been impressive since regaining his place in November after an early-season fall-out with Guardiola, celebrates his 34th birthday on Saturday.

The midfielder memorably got involved in a public controversy three years ago when his agent Dimitri Seluk accused the club’s owners of not showing him enough respect on his birthday.

Guardiola joked that there would be no such problem this time, saying: “We’ll get him as big a cake as possible. We are going to do that. But after the game.”

Sergio Aguero and John Stones could both play a part against Leicester, having returned to training after recovering from injury.

– seven points –
Top scorer Aguero missed last Saturday’s 5-0 win over Crystal Palace with a groin injury, while centre-back Stones has not played for more than a month because of a muscle problem.

Guardiola admitted that City have not done as well as he expected this season, but believes the club are making progress – and is confident that they can get the seven points from three games needed to make certain of a place in next season’s Champions League.

He said: “I enjoyed it. I expected us to fight until the end in the table, especially in the Premier League, because in the Champions League we were not ready to compete with the best teams in Europe.

“But I was expecting to compete until the end, the last three, four, five games, to fight for the Premier League title.

“We were not able to do that because again I think in the boxes we were not good enough to be able to fight until the end.

“But I’m so optimistic. Of course, over the last three games, we are able to qualify for the Champions League. I think we will be stronger next season.”

Finishing third would ensure City a place in the Champions League group stages, while fourth place will require them to go through a play-off in August, as they did this season.

Three wins would guarantee third place, but Guardiola said he would be ready for a play-off if necessary.

He said: “If we finish fourth, we’ll go into the Champions League play-off like this season and my first at Barcelona.

“The pre-season will already be done. We’re going to the United States to play tough friendly games. You go there, you have to make a good performance there.

“Of course, if we have already qualified for the group stages, we are going to prepare and arrive at the first game in the Premier League ready.

“If it doesn’t happen, we’re going to prepare for the play-off. When you play that, it becomes the most important game of the season.

“If we’re not able to do third or fourth we’re going to prepare for the first game of the Europa League.”



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