Guardiola benches Fernandinho and Rodri for Champions League final, Sterling starts

By Sports Desk May 29, 2021

Pep Guardiola sprung a team news surprise for Manchester City's Champions League final against Chelsea, leaving both club captain Fernandinho and fellow holding midfielder Rodri on the bench.

Saturday's clash at Porto's Estadio do Dragao is City's 61st game of the campaign. At least one of Rodri or Fernandinho has started each of the previous 60.

Despite taking a knock to the thigh in training on Friday, Ilkay Gundogan – City's top scorer this term with 17 in all competitions - looks like he will start at the base of the midfield.

England winger Raheem Sterling is recalled to the forward line, aiming to build on a return of one club goal since February, with Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden, Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva providing ample attacking support.

It is not the first time Guardiola's selection for a key game has led to raised eyebrows. The decision to deploy a back three in last season's Champions League quarter-final against Lyon backfired horribly as the Ligue 1 side ran out 3-1 winners.

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    Lautaro Martinez does not know where Inter-linked forward Paulo Dybala will play next season but hopes it will be "where he is happy".

    Dybala's contract at Juventus is expiring, making him one of the most sought-after free agents of the upcoming transfer window.

    Widespread reports have suggested he is most likely to join Argentina team-mate Martinez at Inter – although the Nerazzurri striker is also the subject of transfer speculation.

    But as the pair link up on national team duty, Martinez insists Dybala's club future has been set to one side.

    "We didn't touch the subject," Martinez told TyC Sports. "We talk about many things, about his situation and everything, but today he is thinking about the national team.

    "His future will be decided when these games are over.

    "He is a player with quality, personality and I hope he plays where he feels most comfortable, where he is happy."

    Martinez is also focused on his role with Argentina, looking ahead to the World Cup in Qatar later this year – the first of his Albiceleste career.

    "[The World Cup] is a dream I have had since childhood," Martinez said. "With my family, I constantly talk about this – they are all football fans.

    "If I think now about what could happen, anxiety comes to me. I hope we can leave a good impression.

    "These are dreams you always have. First your dreams are of being a professional, then they are renewed. Today I am months away from this [dream]; I hope it can be fulfilled and I can help my team-mates."

    Even before that, at the start of June, Argentina have the Finalissima against Italy at Wembley to look forward to, pitting the Copa America winners against the European champions – an eagerly awaited fixture for Italy-based Martinez, even if the Azzurri will not be in Qatar.

    "It will be an important game for us because of what the opponent means, beyond the fact that they have been left out of this World Cup," he said.

    "We know their characteristics, their players, they are a high-level opponent. We have a very important test ahead to see where we stand."

  • French Open: Nadal aims to attend Madrid's Champions League final despite Roland Garros schedule French Open: Nadal aims to attend Madrid's Champions League final despite Roland Garros schedule

    Rafael Nadal intends to attend the Champions League final between his beloved Real Madrid and Liverpool, despite the ongoing French Open.

    Paris' Stade de France plays host to the Champions League showpiece on Saturday, with Madrid aiming for a 14th European Cup as Liverpool look to add to their EFL Cup and FA Cup successes this season.

    Meanwhile, across the city in the French capital, Nadal remains in contention at Roland Garros after defeating Botic van de Zandschulp 6-3 6-2 6-4 on Friday.

    Madrid great Zinedine Zidane was in attendance as the Spaniard cruised to victory, with the 35-year-old setting up a last-16 clash with Felix Auger-Aliassime.

    While Nadal did not get to converse with Zidane, he was aware of the Frenchman's presence as the record 21-time grand slam winner outlined his plans to make the short trip to support Carlo Ancelotti's Madrid.

    "I didn't see him, but I knew it was him, I knew he was there because I was listening to the crowd shouting his name all the time," Nadal told reporters when asked about Zidane. 

    "So I imagine he was there, but I didn't have the chance to see him after my match or talk with him at all.

    "Tomorrow, let's see how I wake up, because, you never know with my body how the surprises are there.

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  • Marcelo and Courtois hail Ancelotti impact ahead of Champions League final Marcelo and Courtois hail Ancelotti impact ahead of Champions League final

    Real Madrid duo Marcelo and Thibaut Courtois have hailed Carlo Ancelotti's impact on the side on the eve of their Champions League final clash with Liverpool, with the former saying he is "lucky" to have worked with the Italian.

    Ancelotti has made a stunning impact since returning to the club he led to the 2014 Champions League title, winning LaLiga by a 13-point margin and leading Los Blancos to the showpiece event in Paris against all odds.

    Madrid have become the first team to reach the competition's final after losing a game in each of the last 16, quarter-finals, and semi-finals, while Ancelotti could win the trophy for a fourth time as head coach.

    That would make the Italian the most successful boss in the competition's history outright, and he has won three of his previous four Champions League finals – though his one such defeat came against Liverpool as Milan boss in 2005.

    Speaking alongside Ancelotti at Madrid's pre-match press conference in Paris, both players hailed the Italian's abilities to communicate with Los Blancos' star-studded squad, with Marcelo saying he felt fortunate to have worked under the 62-year-old.

    "I've known him for eight years, I've been lucky enough to train with him," the Brazilian said of his head coach.

    "He understands football very well and knows how to manage the locker room. It's normal that we all want to play. 

    "This season we haven't had almost any problems, the coach leaves us alone, tells us the truth. That gives confidence to work."

    Madrid goalkeeper Courtois, who is yet to win European football's biggest prize and was a runner-up to Los Blancos when on loan at Atletico Madrid in 2014, echoed the left-back's praise of Ancelotti, crediting him and his staff with fostering an excellent team spirit at the Santiago Bernabeu.

    "The good dynamics of the team is due to the coaching staff, we train very well and we know that they make decisions," he said.

    "But they manage it very well, everyone has played. That's why we are where we are."

    Including Marcelo, Madrid have four different players in their squad to have made 100 or more Champions League appearances (Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Marcelo, and David Alaba). 

    They could become the first team to name a starting XI in the competition's final featuring four or more players with a century of Champions League appearances, having fielded three in their 2018 final win over Jurgen Klopp's team (Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, and Sergio Ramos).

    Meanwhile, Marcelo, who is out of contract at the end of this season, says any decision on whether he will extend his 15-year stay with Madrid will be made after the final.

    While the 34-year-old was unwilling to give any hints as to where his future may lie, he referred to the Spanish giants as "the club of his life", and says the team has given him "everything" in his career.

    "Everyone knows my passion and my love for the club of my life, which is Madrid," Marcelo added. 

    "[Former club] Fluminense was in its time, it gave me everything at the beginning. Madrid has given me everything too. 

    "I won't say what I think now. I don't want a statue, my story is made in Madrid, and I will continue to do so. After the final, we'll see what we do."

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