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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Pep warns City stars

Sergio Aguero celebrates after opening the scores
Sergio Aguero celebrates after opening the scores

Pep Guardiola’s Champions League flops flew home on Thursday facing the prospect of a massive clear-out at the Etihad this summer.

Guardiola is planning wholesale changes after Manchester City’s defeat in Monaco underlined the weaknesses in his squad and the future is now uncertain for as many as 17 players.

While Guardiola will not be able to offload so many, senior City figures accept that major surgery is needed. It is understood the Spanish manager wanted seven new signings when he took over last year, effectively ripping up the squad and starting again.

He was told that would have to happen over two summer transfer windows and, armed with a £200million transfer budget, he now expects to sign a host of new players in the coming months.

City’s owners in Abu Dhabi will give him more power to identify targets than they allowed his predecessor Manuel Pellegrini but the pressure is on chief executive Ferran Soriano and director of football Txiki Begiristain to deliver.

Guardiola will offload as many unwanted players as possible before next season and defender Gael Clichy accepts there are bound to be changes.

“There are going to be some new faces,” said Clichy. “What’s going to happen in three months is up to the chairman, the boss and the club. People will talk but we can only concentrate on the next game.”

The Frenchman, 31, is one of seven players out of contract at the end of the season. In the case of Clichy, Yaya Toure, Pablo Zabaleta, Willy Caballero, Bacary Sagna and Jesus Navas, there is no guarantee they will be offered new terms, while 19-year-old defender Tosin Adarabioyo has yet to agree a new deal.

The five City players out on loan at other clubs this season — Joe Hart, Eliaquim Mangala, Samir Nasri, Wilfried Bony and Jason Denayer — are expected to leave permanently.

Fringe players Fernando, Fabian Delph and Kelechi Iheanacho also face uncertain futures, while City must resolve issues surrounding two of their senior stars — Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany.

Kompany could not even make the bench at the Stade Louis II on Wednesday even though Guardiola needed a composed figure in defence against Monaco.

City’s skipper, who has not played since the end of January, is thought to be fit after a catalogue of injuries but his continued absence points towards him leaving at the end of the season.

Aguero’s representatives were in the crowd in Monaco as speculation about his future continued. The Argentina striker has struggled to adapt to Guardiola’s philosophy despite again being City’s leading scorer. He lost his place to Gabriel Jesus before City’s new signing suffered a metatarsal injury.

Publicly, City insist Aguero is staying, and privately remain optimistic that he will, but the relationship between player and manager has appeared strained.

Guardiola, 46, is aware that he too will be under scrutiny after failing to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time in his coaching career.

Twice a winner with Barcelona, he was criticised for failing to emulate that success in three years at Bayern Munich. Now he has taken over a City team that reached the semis last season and seen them go out at the last-16 stage.

He blamed the defeat in Monaco on his failure to convince players to stick to an attacking game plan, and Clichy admitted the team let down the manager, surrendering a two-goal first-leg advantage before half-time.

“We have to take responsibility because he never told us to play deep,” he said. “His philosophy is to go forward, to win the ball high up the field and then pass the ball to a player who can be creative. We just didn’t do it.”

“His message at half-time was “if you have to go out of this competition at least go out playing the way you want to play”.”

Guardiola believes his team will learn from the experience but City now face a battle to finish in the top four to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

They meet Liverpool at home tomorrow before playing away against Arsenal and Chelsea. Clichy added: “We still have the FA Cup and we want to be as close as possible to Chelsea in the league. The message is to finish strong. We have to do it for ourselves, the manager and the fans.”

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