Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has promised Yaya Toure the “biggest possible” birthday cake on Saturday – but will not announce whether the Ivorian midfielder has a new contract until the end of the season.
Guardiola says he has made up his mind on the future of City’s seven out-of-contract players, including Toure, but will not reveal those decisions to the players – or the public – until the campaign is over.
Toure, along with Pablo Zabaleta, Jesus Navas, Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna, Willy Caballero and Tosin Adarabioyo, are coming to the end of their deals but Guardiola is keeping his thoughts to himself with three games of the season left as City push for Champions League qualification.
“It doesn’t depend if you’re going to play the last three matches (if you are) going to stay or not. The decision is already done. But we are going to communicate it after the season,” Guardiola said.
“Of course the club is going to do it properly like always. Still we are fighting and playing for something so, so important for the club for the future. Now is still the time to be focused on what we have to do.”
The majority of the seven are expected to leave the Etihad Stadium, including veteran midfielder Toure after seven years at the club.
He turns 34 on Saturday, when City face Leicester, and Toure’s agent Dimitry Seluk has asked fans to mark the occasion by bringing cakes to the game.
Seluk famously questioned Toure’s future at the club three years ago after claiming City had not sufficiently marked the occasion, although he now insists it was a joke that was misunderstood.
Toure need have no worries on Saturday about whether the club will provide him with a cake, though.
“He’ll have the biggest one possible,” said Guardiola. “We are going to do that. But after the game.”
City will have striker Sergio Aguero and defender John Stones available after both returned to training following injuries.
Guardiola’s side will be seeking revenge for one of the lowest moments of their season. They trailed Leicester 4-0 at the King Power Stadium in December before scoring twice late on.
If City win their three remaining games they are guaranteed to finish third, but Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United all remain in the race for the Champions League spots.
Finishing fourth would mean again going through the Champions League play-offs, while third would bring direct entry into the group stage.
Guardiola insisted it will make little difference to him, saying: “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 US 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 Champions League, 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-offs.
“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.”
With just three games until the end of the season, the key spots up for grabs are on the brink of being settled.
Whether it’s the Premier League title itself, Champions League qualification, a Europa League spot or battles with relegation, fates are being sealed.
This weekend presents the opportunity for a few teams to secure European places while one club may find themselves demoted to the Championship.
Here’s a look at what this Premier League weekend could decide.
PREMIER LEAGUE TITLE
Simple as you like. A win against West Brom on Friday will hand Chelsea the title in Antonio Conte’s first season in charge. It would wrap up the title-chase before Tottenham Hotspur, who are seven points behind the Blues, take the field at home to Manchester United on Sunday.
Even if Chelsea lose, a United win at White Hart Lane could see them crowned champions on Sunday. However, a draw or defeat for Conte’s side coupled with a win for Spurs means they will have to beat Watford on Monday if they want to secure the title before next week.
If things go their way, Liverpool could be celebrating a return to the Champions League this weekend. Apart from winning their away game against West Ham United, the Reds would need Arsenal to lose to Stoke City and United to fail to win away to Spurs.
A draw against Hull City would secure safety for Crystal Palace and also guarantee a spot in next season’s Premier League for Watford and Burnley.
Regardless of the outcome of Hull’s game though, Watford and Burnley could still secure safety with draws of their own against Everton and Bournemouth respectively.
The third and final relegation spot could be decided this weekend if Hull lose Palace and Swansea City beat Sunderland.
Chelsea won their fifth Premier League title on Friday night, defeating Tony Pulis’ West Brom at The Hawthorns.
Antonio Conte’s side have held on to top spot since mid-December.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at the other Premier League title-winning Blues sides to see how the current crop compares.
Which side do you remember most?
2004-05 = 95 POINTS (W29 D8 L1 GF 72 GA 15)
TEAM: Cech; Gallas, Terry, Carvalho, Ferreira; Makelele, Tiago, Lampard; Duff, Drogba, Gudjohnsen.
Jose Mourinho’s first season in English football culminated in a record-breaking season as Chelsea topped the table with 95 points, the greatest ever haul in top-flight history.
It was Mourinho’s defence, comprising of goalkeeper Petr Cech and a back four of William Gallas, PFA Players’ Player of the Year John Terry, Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira, that was the real strength of this team as they conceded just 15 times across 38 fixtures, a figure only matched across history by Preston’s 1888-89 team when 16 fewer games were played.
Frank Lampard scored twice at Bolton to clinch the silverware and in Damien Duff, Arjen Robben and Eidur Gudjohnsen, Mourinho’s side possessed plenty of flair too.
2005-06 = 91 POINTS (W29 D4 L5 GF 72 GA 22)
TEAM: Cech; Del Horno, Terry, Carvalho, Gallas; Makelele, Essien, Lampard; Robben, Drogba, Cole.
Mourinho’s reigning champions picked up where they left off, winning each of their first nine and dropping just five points in their opening 22 games, at which stage they already had a 16-point advantage over Manchester United, who were beaten on April 29 to ensure the title returned to Stamford Bridge.
It was once more Cech, Terry and Lampard who made up the spine of Mourinho’s team along with Claude Makelele and Didier Drogba, while midfielder Michael Essien’s signing from Lyon was one of the crucial bits of business conducted the previous summer.
2009-10 = 86 POINTS (W27 D5 L6 GF 103 GA 32)
TEAM: Cech; Cole, Terry, Carvalho, Ivanovic; Mikel, Ballack, Lampard, Malouda; Drogba, Anelka.
The ‘Special One’ was long gone by the time Chelsea defeated Wigan 8-0 on the final day of the season to lift English football’s leading prize again four years after they had previously done so. Carlo Ancelotti was at the helm and promoted a more attacking style as they became the first side to score over 100 league goals in the Premier League era.
Most of the team was leftover from Mourinho’s time, including Drogba, scorer of 29 league goals, and first-time title winners Ashley Cole, Michael Ballack and Florent Malouda, with Branislav Ivanovic and Nicolas Anelka the only regulars to have arrived after the Portuguese left in 2007.
2014-15 = 87 POINTS (W26 D9 L3 GF 73 GA 32)
TEAM: Courtois, Azpilicueta, Cahill, Terry, Ivanovic; Matic, Fabregas; Hazard, Oscar, Willian; Costa.
In the second season of Mourinho’s second stint, he won his third and the club’s fourth Premier League crown having only vacated top spot once all term, between their first and third fixtures, after they began with a 14-match unbeaten sequence.
Mourinho promoted promising youngster Thibaut Courtois in favour of Cech as his goalkeeper and acquired Cesc Fabregas and 20-goal striker Diego Costa in the summer having purchased Willian and Nemanja Matic in the previous two windows. He also managed to get the best out of eventual PFA Players’ Player of the Year Eden Hazard.
2016-17 = 87 POINTS (W28 D3 L5 GF 76 GA 29) *after 36 games
TEAM: Courtois; Cahill, Luiz, Azpilicueta; Alonso, Matic, Kante, Moses; Hazard, Costa, Pedro
After a disastrous title defence in 2015-16 where they finished 10th, the Blues have been led back to the summit by former Italy boss Antonio Conte using many of the players Mourinho had struggled with just last term.
Conte reverted to a 3-4-3 system to kick-start a 13-game winning sequence from October, with Victor Moses, loaned out for three straight years by Mourinho, a key contributor along with summer signings Marcos Alonso and N’Golo Kante.
The rest of the team were regulars under Mourinho apart from the returning David Luiz, who he sold in 2014 after starting him in just 15 Premier League games the previous term.
Source: Press Association Sport