Pep Guardiola believes Manchester City’s FA Cup defeat to Wigan Athletic last season serves as a warning ahead of Saturday’s fifth-round trip to Newport County.
City won the Premier League and EFL Cup last term but missed out on a shot at an unprecedented domestic treble when Fabian Delph was sent off and Will Grigg scored the only goal at the DW Stadium.
Wigan were on their way to promotion from League One at that stage, while their round-five foes this time around are languishing 15th in League Two.
But Mike Flynn’s Newport have been a team transformed in the FA Cup, dumping out Premier League Leicester City before goals from Robbie Willmott and Padraig Amond saw off Middlesbrough in a fourth-round replay.
Asked how City would approach a match that comes ahead of a Champions League trip to Schalke and the EFL Cup final against Chelsea, Guardiola told a news conference: “With a lot of respect. They have done incredibly in this competition. What they do, they do really well. We have watched as much of them as possible.
“Always we try to understand the opponents but in cup competitions, what happened last season with Wigan, one game, especially away. Everything can happen.
“Now our players know a little bit [about Newport] with Wilmott, with [Jamille] Matt, with [Scot] Bennet, with Amond. Both strikers have scored 14 or 15 goals, they are incredible in the set-pieces and the throw-ins.
“They go into the second balls, they use the channels perfectly to put balls into the box. Especially in our box we are going to suffer because they are taller and stronger than us.
“I saw the game against Leicester, I saw the game against Middlesbrough, away and at home. Especially in the second game they were outstanding. They were much better than Middlesbrough.”
— Manchester City (@ManCity) February 15, 2019
The churned-up state of the Rodney Parade pitch has come in for plenty of pre-match discussion but Guardiola insists his players can have no qualms over what greets them in south Wales.
“We have to adapt. It is what it is. Accept that challenge,” he said, before offering a reminder that City’s 1-0 Premier League win over Tottenham at Wembley this season hardly took place in ideal conditions.
“We played in the Premier League against Tottenham when three days before there were two NFL games
“It happened in the Premier League, so why should [a bad pitch] not happen for a team in the lower division?”
Indeed, the City boss acknowledged muddy winter pitches as a quintessential part of England’s football heritage and something that might force a deviation from the slick playing style that saw Chelsea pulled apart 6-0 last weekend.
“They play at home and they can do whatever they want [to the pitch],” he added, having explained Vincent Kompany and Benjamin Mendy would once again be injury absentees.
“I saw reviews of vintage games here in England from the 60s, 70s and 80s. The big difference from football in the past to right now is the pitches.
“Most of them are perfect, which is why in England you can play in different ways.
“Before it was not possible with pitches in that condition to play on the grass. You have to play long ball, set-pieces, throw-ins, boxes.
“We will see the pitch tomorrow and have to adapt. If you have to play longer or quicker, I don’t know. But you don’t win absolutely anything complaining about that.”
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