Pep Guardiola marvelled at Pablo Zabaleta’s dedication to the Manchester City cause after the defender shrugged off two weeks without a training session to go toe-to-toe with Neymar in the Champions League.
The 31-year-old right-back suffered a foot injury as City suffered a 4-0 Group C defeat at Camp Nou and sat out subsequent matches against Southampton, Manchester United and West Brom.
Guardiola told a pre-match news conference this week that he would be without his senior right-backs for the return clash but Zabaleta rejoined his team-mates for a workout on Monday.
The Argentina international told his manager he was ready to play and completed 90 minutes as captain to help the Premier League leaders recover from a Lionel Messi opener and complete a stirring 3-1 triumph, as Ilkay Gundogan netted either side of Kevin De Bruyne’s free-kick.
Speaking after the match, Guardiola felt Zabaleta’s attitude encapsulated his team’s fighting spirit on a raucous night at the Etihad Stadium.
“The important thing is we showed the way to compete against the big teams – like Zabaleta, for two weeks with no training session after the Barcelona game,” he explained.
“[Monday] was the first day. [On Tuesday] he arrived and said ‘I’m ready if you need me’.
“So he played against Neymar. Guys… Neymar! And he played how he played. That is the steps to go forward.
“That is why I am so pleased – for my guys, for the team, because from the beginning we said, ‘win or lose, in the end we will try’.”
City’s win moves them to within two points of group leaders Barca and they can guarantee a place in the knockout stages with victory at Borussia Monchengladbach in the next matchweek.
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