Iconic defender Carles Puyol has declared it is only a matter of time until Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola delivers the glowing and trophy-laden football the pair enjoyed together at Barcelona, despite a chastening exit from the Champions League.
Guardiola, 46, whose side face Liverpool on Sunday, has come in for criticism about his defensive organisation after a 3-1 second-leg defeat to Monaco in the round of 16 saw him fail to make the competition’s last-four for the first time.
This follows a debut season at Etihad Stadium in which an expensively-assembled squad has been unable to mount a sustained push in the Premier League’s title race.
As captain, Puyol lifted two Champions League trophies, a pair of FIFA Club World Cups, three La Ligas and two Copa del Reys alongside his revolutionary former boss from 2008-12. This record was at the forefront of the 38-year-old’s mind when quizzed about the City situation on Saturday night in a role as mentor for the du Football Champions finals at Dubai Mall.
“I think he is doing a good job,” said Puyol, who made 682 appearances in total for Barca plus claimed Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 during his 100 caps for Spain.
“It’s always tough arriving to a new league, with a new mentality and with a very different style of football. I am certain he will win titles with Man City in the future and that they will play brilliant football, the Pep style of play.
“You have to go step by step and have some patience.”
On Friday, Barca drew out perennial Serie A winners Juventus for a taxing quarter-final. It was a miracle they were still in the mix after history was made in the last round, coming back from 4-0 down against Paris Saint-Germain to epically win 6-1 and proceed.
“After the comeback Barcelona had in their last match, they are considered the favourites,” added Puyol. “After trailing 4-0, logically they had more possibilities to get eliminated than to advance.
“But they believed, they fought for it and they came back. And now they are favourites to win.
“Juventus are a very tough opponent and Barcelona have to play at a very high level to stop them.”
In contrast, Puyol was evasive about the identity of the next Barca coach, following ex-team-mate Luis Enrique’s decision to step aside in the summer.
He said: “Right now, I think about Luis Enrique who is the coach of the team. It’s not my job to be concerned with this, it’s something for the club to think about.”
In tandem with ex-Real Madrid and Spain stalwart Michel Salgado, Puyol was in Dubai to oversee the conclusion of a competition in which talented footballers in the UAE can win trials with La Liga clubs.
“I was surprised by the level of the players, both the boys and the girls, and some of them have chances to play in Spain,” said Puyol.
Juan Mata is a tireless workhorse in Manchester United’s midfield engine room.
The talented Spaniard puts in everything for his team when he’s out on the pitch and that’s been quite evident this season as well.
On Thursday night, Mata scored what was the deciding goal against Rostov for United in their Europa League encounter – helping the Red Devils through to the quarter-finals of the tournament.
And according to WhoScored’s Stat, Mata has now scored 10 goals in all competitions for the third season in a row.
A player with tremendous work ethic and a knack of being in the right place at the right time, Mata has risen to become Jose Mourinho’s key goalscoring midfielder.
And one thing looks certain, there’s surely more goals to come from him this term.
Juan Mata: Has scored 10 goals in all competitions for the third season in a row #UEL— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) March 16, 2017
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The Fantasy Premier League big guns have really thrown a spanner in the works haven’t they? Harry Kane lured in managers by the hundreds of thousands with his recent form only to pick up a serious injury in FA Cup action that rules him out for about five weeks.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is suspended, Alexis Sanchez is hardly on the best terms with Arsene Wenger and now even Romelu Lukaku seems to have annoyed Ronald Koeman by rejecting an Everton contract and questioning the club’s ambition.
What it does is serve up plenty of dilemmas for us FPL managers with the chief one being whom to captain.
That’s why this week’s column addresses that burning question and picks five less popular players who could come to your rescue this weekend.
WHO TO PICK AS CAPTAIN
Romelu Lukaku [10.1m] was the pick for captain in Gameweek 28 and the Everton striker did not disappoint, registering a goal and assist in a 3-1 win against West Brom. The Belgian would be an ideal option this week as well but given Koeman’s criticism of his comments regarding the club, it’s not a happy camp right now.
Odds are that Lukaku will still start out of necessity more than anything else but it will be interesting to see the reception he gets at Goodison Park. A few of his team-mates are bound to be a bit upset with his remarks as well.
So instead, this week, you could gamble and captain Pedro [7.1m] who is in great form, notching up 28 points in the last three gameweeks.
He didn’t play in the FA Cup tie with Manchester United but that may have been to give Willian some playing time. It also means that while Eden Hazard and Diego Costa are the front runners in the Chelsea side, Pedro will be the freshest of the lot this weekend.
HENRIKH MKHITARYAN – MANCHESTER UNITED [8.8m]
The United attacker has been one of the most exciting players at Old Trafford of late, always looking like a serious threat.
Given Jose Mourinho’s lack of options with injuries to Paul Pogba, Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial and suspensions for Ander Herrera and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Mkhitaryan is almost certain to start as they travel to Middlesbrough who have just sacked Aitor Karanka.
It’s also worth starting to gather some United talent ahead of the two double gameweeks they will play later on.
RIYAD MAHREZ – LEICESTER CITY [8.9m]
Remember him? Mahrez was the highest FPL point scorer last season, which is why his price is still up there despite disappointing this time around.
But given Leicester’s recent resurgence, the Algerian could be on the rise again. He scored and bagged 10 points against Hull City last time out and has a few tasty fixtures over the next few weeks.
"It is a magical goal from Riyad Mahrez!" ✨ 👌— Leicester City (@LCFC) March 7, 2017
Watch the Algerian's unbelievable goal against Hull again... pic.twitter.com/MbOPKuVvny
SON HEUNG-MIN – TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR [6.8m]
In Harry Kane’s absence it’s quite possible that Son will take up the lone striker’s role like he did the last time the English international was side-lined.
Don’t forget, he’s listed as a midfielder as well which would see him fetch more points for goals and at only 6.8m, he’s worth the gamble.
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