Manchester City’s Argentinian defender Pablo Zabaleta warms up ahead of the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Crystal Palace at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on May 6, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Oli SCARFF /
Pablo Zabaleta’s farewell is likely to garner much of the attention as Manchester City host West Bromwich Albion on Tuesday, but Pep Guardiola’s side still have work to do to secure a Champions League place.
It was confirmed on Saturday that full-back Zabaleta will leave City at the end of this season after nine years at the club, with West Ham his likely destination.
The Premier League match against Albion will mark his final home appearance, and the club are planning tributes to mark the occasion.
Guardiola believes City need more players with Zabaleta’s commitment if they are to succeed in the future.
“It’s important to have players like Pablo in the team,” Guardiola said.
“Pablo is a real legend in what he has done in the club, he has helped with his team-mates at the club to make a step forward, to try to compete to qualify for the Champions League, sometimes to win the Premier League.
“That’s why Pablo Zabaleta, in these kind of things, is so, so important.”
Victory would just about ensure a top-four finish for Guardiola’s side, and may even make it mathematically certain if Arsenal fail to beat Sunderland on the same night.
Guardiola is in the process of shaping his squad for next season, and while Zabaleta’s future has been decided, those of City’s six other out-of-contract players remain in the balance.
The most high-profile of those players is midfielder Yaya Toure, who looked certain to leave after being dropped from the first-team squad earlier this season because of a fall-out with the manager.
Since resolving the dispute and being recalled in December, Toure has proved himself a valuable player for City, and even though he turned 34 on Saturday, it is clear that he still has plenty to offer.
City go into Tuesday’s match on the back of two successive wins, beating Crystal Palace 5-0 but following that up with a far less convincing 2-1 victory over Leicester on Saturday.
– Optimism –
Guardiola must decide whether to recall his 31-goal leading scorer Sergio Aguero to the starting line-up, having caused something of a surprise by naming him only as a substitute on Saturday.
Aguero, who made the squad after recovering from a groin injury, did come on for the last 12 minutes, but Gabriel Jesus, signed in January from Palmeiras, is clearly the first-choice striker.
West Brom will head for Eastlands with some discouraging memories, having shipped 23 goals in their last seven visits.
But despite losing 1-0 to Chelsea on Friday in the game that saw the London club crowned champions, West Brom boss Tony Pulis believes optimism is high at The Hawthorns.
His side have two games to clinch the eighth place they have held for much of the season.
“It was a slow start to the season but we picked up and it’s been a fantastic journey and a fantastic ride,” said Pulis.
“What we’ve got to do now is try to get something from these two away games.
“The club had got a buzz about it that it hasn’t had for a long time, at least not since I’ve been at the club.
“There is much more optimism that the club hasn’t had since I’ve been here and people want to feel that and be part of it.
“And I’m hoping we can get maybe one or two players in that can give us a lift for next season because that’s important.”