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Guardiola vs Ten Hag… It’s FA Cup weekend

Last week the FA engraved the word “Manchester” on the FA Cup secure in the knowledge that either United or City will hold the...

Last week the FA engraved the word “Manchester” on the FA Cup secure in the knowledge that either United or City will hold the famous trophy high in the air this weekend. The word United or City will be added when the final whistle blows in this exciting battle.

Pep Guardiola did not review City’s last Premier League game as he normally would in the first training session of the week but told his players to take Monday and Tuesday off and spend the time not thinking about United or the FA Cup final.

Erik Ten Hag on the other hand had a different approach.  He assembled his players for intense training on Tuesday and examined in depth every City opponent. He hopes a good season will end with two trophies and a top-three finish.

Guardiola did not speak to the crowd last Sunday after the defeat at Brentford but at Old Trafford Ten Hag took the microphone and addressed the United fans. He said, “There’s still one game to go and I’m sure we have a really good chance to bring the Cup back to Old Trafford.” Monday morning was the usual intense training session.

Guardiola in contrast told his players, “Enjoy two days with your families. Don’t see each other. Wednesday we will prepare for the final.” With two of football’s biggest prizes in his sights Guardiola told us that some of his players are mentally exhausted and he left four key members at home last weekend bringing in several who have spent time on the bench recently. He emphasised that neither he or his players think further ahead than one game and the priority this week is the FA Cup. No talk allowed of the upcoming game against Inter in the Champions League.

Both managers are playing their cards close to their chests and giving nothing away as they battle to outwit each other but this is what I have learned at United. Ten Hag has already decided how he will probably field his eleven. His 4-2-3-1 formation has been used all season and they cannot chop and change as easily as City because they do not have enough in-form players to cover all positions. Ten Hag had a defence option with Lisandro Martinez but he injured his metatarsal. United’s backline defence is based around the excellent Raphael Verane who is solid for Ten Hag which means Harry Maguire might have to settle for another appearance from the bench. Defence midfield will definitely centre around Casimero. The thinking and skillful Christian Eriksen is in contention and therefore tinkering with the attacking positions looks to be the only option. 19 year-old Alejandro Garnacho is not ready for such a big occasion but Ten Hag said he is hopeful Antony will make a full recovery for Wembley. Much depends on which eleven players start for City because Ten Hag has been practising against several formations and set pieces allowing for different set-ups from Guardiola. United need to be ready and with fresh players such as Fred and McTominay, Ten Hag could spring some surprises on Saturday afternoon.

Round-up of big players news

Thiago Silva has told Mauricio Pochettino that he wants to stay at the club and honour his contract which runs until the end of next season.  38-year-old Thiago was voted Chelsea’s Player of the Year.

Harry Maguire is to be offered £10 million to leave the club! He earns £190k a week and cost £80 million in 2019 but is currently valued at £30million now he has reached 30 years of age. He is two thirds of the way through his six-year contract.

Manchester City have started talks with Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic. Pep Guardiola is looking to strengthen his central midfield and he is a renown tough opponent.

Liverpool have rejected a bid from RB Leipzig for midfielder and winger Fabio Carvalho. Coach Jurgen Klopp would prefer a loan deal for the 20-year-old but a permanent deal is being discussed with a buy-back clause.

Liverpool are close to concluding a deal for Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister and also have Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Manu Kone in their sights.

Despite media reports that Diogo Dalot and Aaron Wan-Bissaker are leaving Old Trafford, Manchester United yesterday signed a new five-year deal with Dalot with a further optional year and Wan-Bissaka is featuring in Erik Ten-Hag’s plans next season.

Doucourse saves the day

From an outcast doomed to sit on the bench to club hero, Abdoulaye Doucoure sent Everton fans into dreamland as he kept them in the Premier League. The Toffees held their destiny in their own hands and they took advantage to demote Leeds and Leicester on the final day of a remarkably exciting season. When Leicester scored and the Everton fans heard the news they went suddenly quiet only for the noise level to explode again as Doucoure scored his historic goal. At the final whistle some fans could not help themselves and invaded the pitch, singing and chanting, blue and white flares were thrown around and while celebrating Everton’s stay of execution it was clear that no one wants the current board of directors or owners at the club any longer

Newcastle fans are the noisiest

Having been tipped off that Mauricio Pochettino would sign his contract just before the Chelsea v Newcastle game I went along to Stamford Bridge to witness the Blue’s last game of the season. It was a pretty ordinary performance from an underperforming team and club legend Frank Lampard waved goodbye to his faithful fans. He had won only one game in eleven and Chelsea finished 12th in the table which is their lowest position for almost thirty years. However, it was not Pochettino joining the club or Lampard’s farewell which motivated me on a hot sunny afternoon. No, it was the Newcastle fans. Four hours of travel from the distant north east of the UK, basking in hot sunshine the thousands who had made the trip to watch the Black & Whites were unbelievably loud – all through the game. It was impossible to speak to the person sitting next to me! Their home at St James Park is probably the loudest fan base in world football…coach Eddie Howe has brought them European Champions League football and any foreign team that faces Newcastle next season will be subjected to that wall of noise.

Rise and fall of Leicester City

Having tasted the glory days winning the title in 2016 and the FA Cup two years ago it was a sad sight to see Leicester players huddled around mobiles phones anxiously listening for the result at Everton which would determine their future. Shoulders dropped and fans cried when they discovered their Premier League status was over. Relegation had caught up with this likeable club and their success had turned sour.

The fans did not turn on the club directors as they did at relegated Leeds but it is surely their fault the club has gone backwards so quickly. Following the Cup win there was no real investment and as sacked coach Brendan Rodgers pointed out, you can’t progress without putting money on the table. Now the club faces losing several of their best players who are far too good to play second division football. James Maddison is already receiving offers, 36 year-old Jamie Vardy will not want to spend his final years in the second tier and the club will have to sell to reduce their wage bill of £182 million and they made a £92.5million loss last season. The chairman told fans they would fight to return but few of them were listening.

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