Manchester City’s 4-1 victory over Southampton on Sunday means Pep Guardiola has still only lost one FA Cup game away from Wembley, though has also only lifted the trophy once.
This bizarre but equally incredible record is just another reason why the Catalan will go down as one of the greatest managers to ever grace English football. Despite the increasing demands of winning the Premier League and Champions League, Guardiola has always respected the domestic competitions.
It’s useless trying to predict Guardiola’s FA Cup or Carabao Cup starting line-up, because 99 per cent of the time, the manager will ignore the narrative around youth talent and deploy his big guns. Take this year’s FA Cup third-round clash with League Two outfit Swindon Town: Guardiola, in between crucial Premier League clashes with Arsenal and Chelsea, deployed the likes Kevin De Bruyne, Ruben Dias, Kyle Walker, and Bernardo Silva in the starting XI.
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It’s a relentless pursuit of perfection that has seen him lift eight major honors since his appointment. With more silverware potentially on the way this season, it’s fair to expect more of the same.
Guardiola’s only FA Cup loss away from Wembley Stadium was a shock fifth-round exit to Wigan Athletic in 2018, courtesy of a Will Grigg strike – a fine record that has only borne one showpiece triumph. That was, of course, to secure a historic domestic treble against Watford which saw City score six on the day and showcased to the world how far apart they were from the rest of the league.
Dotted amongst the rest of Guardiola’s tenure is a series of semi-final exits – twice against Arsenal and once against Chelsea – so, with City reaching yet another semi-final this season, why have they failed so often at this stage? The finger does have to be pointed at players and boss.
In Guardiola’s first season in charge, City had endured a miserable Premier League campaign, but a semi-final with Arsenal at Wembley presented the team with a chance to reach a first major final under the former Barca and Bayern Munich boss. Despite taking the lead through Sergio Aguero, the Gunners turned the game on his head and won 2-1 in extra time – a signal to the manager that his aging squad needed a rebuild.
Three years later, City returned to the same stage, against the same opposition, but with the same result. Two goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang sent City packing – again, after an unsuccessful league campaign.
Games were still being played behind closed doors last season, and with City still on for a quadruple, they played Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea in the semi-final hoping to keep their dreams alive. City lost the game 1-0, but it must be noted that Guardiola fielded a heavily rotated side with a Champions League semi-final date with Paris Saint-Germain just around the corner – a decision which proved pivotal.
So, with the Blues facing another daunting clash against Liverpool in the 2022 edition of the competition, what will Guardiola have up his sleeve in around a months’ time? It’s arguably his toughest test to date in the competition and time to right some previous wrongs.
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