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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Andy Dunn

Pep Guardiola decision to axe Joao Cancelo could tee up finest Man City achievement yet

If you did not know any better, you might think Pep Guardiola is deliberately trying to make life difficult for himself.

Or perhaps there is a seven-year itch-style thing going on, despite him having renewed his vows to Manchester City a couple of months ago. Maybe he is just trying to spice up the marriage, stop it going a little stale.

When his team last met Spurs just over a fortnight ago, Guardiola celebrated a rousing comeback - 2-0 down, 4-2 up - with a scattergun verbal attack on all and sundry. Players, fans, staff, the lot. All complacent.

If we carry like this, Arsenal will ‘destroy’ us, Pep said after what looked like a mighty fine comeback to most of us present at the Etihad. One player was magnificent that night and Pep agreed … but: “Riyad Mahrez, what a player! Before the World Cup, he was on holiday …”

Give with one, take away with the other. Particularly in recent times, Guardiola has not been afraid to single out players for criticism. Kalvin Phillips once revelled in the nickname ‘Yorkshire Pirlo’ but Pep soon had him down as a Yorkshire pudding.

Phillips is reminded of his manager’s ‘overweight’ comments every time he warms up as a substitute - which is a lot. Comments about some of his players’ body language seemed to be aimed at Phil Foden, who has not been flavour of the month recently.

Guardiola is unfailingly nice about his players after they leave and a few have gone in the past eight months. Raheem Sterling to Chelsea, Gabriel Jesus and Oleskandr Zinchenko to Arsenal and, now, Joao Cancelo to Bayern Munich.

Guardiola swiftly sanctioned the exit of Cancelo (PA)

“He needs to play to be happy,” Guardiola said of Cancelo, one of the Premier League ’s outstanding players over the past couple of seasons. “We decided to let him go to Munich.” Just like that.

Chelsea’s purchasing pyrotechnics dominated the transfer window chat to such an extent that Cancelo’s departure for the Bundesliga merely raised eyebrows. It should have dropped jaws.

Cancelo might have been annoyed at not making recent starting line-ups but so what? Wait until the summer to sell him. It is not as though he would have downed tools.

Yes, there is fantastic squad depth at City but Kyle Walker has been struggling with injury and is knocking on 33, Rico Lewis is an 18-year-old rookie, Nathan Ake is a centre-half and Sergio Gomez is a winger. Cancelo is a 28-year-old in his prime who has won league titles in three countries, including two here.

Of course, Guardiola prides himself on having a collection of players who, almost to a man, can operate with distinction anywhere on the park. But it could be argued Cancelo is almost a unique talent - a unique talent Guardiola reckons he can now do without.

Perhaps he really is just making it a bit more interesting for himself and one thing is for sure - if Guardiola wins a fifth Premier League title from this position, it will be his finest achievement on these shores yet.

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