Pep Guardiola insists he has no fear when it comes to trusting Manchester City youngster Phil Foden in big games.

Foden was handed a start in Sunday's EFL Cup final against Aston Villa and responded with a man-of-the-match display in a 2-1 victory – City's third consecutive triumph in the competition.

There had been murmurs of discontent in some quarters over the lack of meaningful minutes granted to the 19-year-old this season and Guardiola is set to face further demands to select the playmaker after his Wembley outing sparked talk of an England call-up.

The City manager is content with this state of affairs, however, pointing to Foden's goalscoring outing in a pivotal 1-0 win over Tottenham during last season's knife-edge Premier League title race as another demonstration of his trust.

"I'm not scared in the important games to put in the players I decided. I play games without strikers. I play a final with Phil because I see Phil every day," Guardiola said on the eve of an FA Cup fifth-round trip to Sheffield Wednesday.

"The only problem for Phil and other players who maybe do not have the minutes that they deserve is the squad – some players have more experience than Phil and something that he does not have just yet because he is 19 years old.

"Every time I decide to let him play he always plays good. Always he was at a high, high level.

"Last season he played against Tottenham to win the Premier League after being knocked out of the Champions League, he played against Leicester.

"When I select him, I do not have any doubts. When Leroy Sane was injured in the pre-season and the people said we have to maybe go to the market, I said, 'No – Phil can play in the middle and play wide'.

Guardiola shuffled his pack to produce some eyebrow-raising team selections last week, although he was ultimately vindicated as City claimed wins on the road at Leicester City and Real Madrid before retaining the EFL Cup.

Right-back Kyle Walker and central midfield duo Rodri and Ilkay Gundogan were the only ever-presents as their boss deployed a range of tactical shapes, while the consistency of City's play in challenging circumstances pleased Guardiola the most.

"In all games we were like what we are. We changed some things in the way we attacked, the way we defend, but we played the way we are over the last years," he said.

"We spoke about that – try to be ourselves whatever happens from the beginning – and we did it."

One player seemingly still to get up to speed with these demands is Joao Cancelo.

The Portugal full-back was a high-profile close season arrival from Juventus but has so far struggled at the Etihad Stadium.

After remaining an unused substitute in Leicester and Madrid, Cancelo missed out on the matchday squad at the weekend.

Asked what the 25-year-old must do to get back in favour, Guardiola replied: "Be himself, open-minded, listen, try to do his best. We are here to help him – the normal things I want from all the players.

"It depends on him, absolutely. We can suggest but the rest, the players have to decide."

Phil Foden has the sort of attitude that means he can achieve whatever he wants to in football, according to Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola.

The 19-year-old put in a fine display as City won the EFL Cup for the third year running with a 2-1 victory over Aston Villa at Wembley on Sunday.

Foden's performance has apparently put him in contention for an England call-up when Gareth Southgate's men face friendlies with Italy and Denmark at the end of March.

Guardiola says Foden's immediate aims should just be to keep improving but the former Barcelona coach has no doubt about the attacking midfielder's potential.

"I want the best for him. He will get what he deserves and of course I'm delighted about his performance and behaviour in good and bad moments," Guardiola said when previewing the FA Cup fifth-round tie at Sheffield Wednesday. 

"He just works, and it always pays off. At 19 you have a lot to improve but with this behaviour he can do whatever he wants."

City have little time to dwell on their latest domestic success with preparations having already begun for the trip across the Pennines to face Wednesday at Hillsborough.

Leroy Sane was tipped to be in contention against the Owls after playing 57 minutes for City's Under-23 side on Friday. 

The Germany winger sustained a serious knee injury in August's Community Shield triumph over Liverpool, but Guardiola says the Wednesday game comes too soon.

"No. He's not ready. Six months, he needs the process. When you're out, you start, you feel good but he's not especially confident. He's doing the normal steps he needs to come back," added Guardiola, who confirmed Sergio Aguero is fit after sustaining a knock versus Villa and Claudio Bravo will again play in goal.

"[With the] second team [he played] 50-60 minutes, now it's weeks and weeks and weeks [of gaining full fitness]."

City remain a huge 22 points adrift of Liverpool in the Premier League, but the Reds saw their unbeaten top-flight record ended by Watford a day before Guardiola's men triumphed at Wembley.

Guardiola, though, did not entertain the notion the two results suggest the gap between Liverpool and City this season is not as big as the table suggests.

"The league is deserved, and it is done," he said. 

"In other competitions, we have won two this season and now we have the cup and the Premier League because we have to improve to finish second and get the most points as possible and then there are two competitions: the FA Cup and Champions League."

Guardiola also said he was impressed by the focus his team have shown in training ahead of the Wednesday fixture and insists there is no complacency from the EFL Cup success.

"They trained so well today [Tuesday], they were focused, the team is so ready to play tomorrow. I like that," Guardiola observed.

Phil Foden is hopeful of breaking into the England senior squad in time for Euro 2020 after playing a starring role in Manchester City's EFL Cup triumph on Sunday.

Foden, 19, was the best player on the pitch as City claimed a 2-1 victory over Aston Villa, winning the Man of the Match award as Pep Guardiola's men retained the trophy at Wembley.

The playmaker, who came through City's academy, teed up Sergio Aguero for the opening goal in the final, before generally impressing in his role from the right flank.

England manager Gareth Southgate namechecked Foden in the past, adamant it is only a matter of time before the teenager forces his way into the squad, and the youngster hopes he can do that before this year's tournament.

"I want to be there [at the Euros], obviously, but it's very difficult with the players that we have there," he told reporters.

"But hopefully Gareth was watching, and hopefully he saw things that he liked.

"That is all I can do, just show what I can do every time I play and see where it takes me."

Guardiola has not been shy about previously dubbing Foden as David Silva's heir at City, and such comments fill the England Under-21 international with confidence rather than pressure.

"If the manager says something like that it gives you a lot of belief and courage to keep playing and doing well," he added. "That gives me a lot of confidence on the pitch.

"Not many young players like myself could play in a team like this, so it just shows the belief of the manager and the players, that they have in me which is really nice.

"When you are growing up you dream about playing at Wembley for City on a big stage, and that's a dream come true for me now.

"My dream came true [on Sunday] for me, playing in a final, and obviously to win it is even better."

The 19-year-old man of the match strolled through the Wembley mixed zone on Sunday evening wearing a beaming grin along with his winners' medal, only to receive one more instruction from his manager.

"Phil, you must!" said Pep Guardiola, gesturing towards the gaggle of waiting journalists, eagerly wanting a piece of Phil Foden.

But no sooner had he headed towards the microphones, the midfielder was told in no uncertain terms it was time to go right now as the team bus was ready to leave.

It meant Manchester City's coach driver had done something largely beyond Aston Villa for the duration of Sunday's EFL Cup final by stopping Foden from doing whatever he wanted. 

City continued their recent dominance of the competition with a third successive triumph thanks to first-half goals from Sergio Aguero and Rodri, before Mbwana Samatta pulled one back in the 41st minute for a valiant Villa.

It proved a day to savour for City's old guard. Aguero, Fernandinho and David Silva now have five winners' medals apiece from English football's mid-season final.

Club record goalscorer Aguero settled nerves after a scrappy start with a typically astute piece of poaching. Ever the man for the big occasion, the Argentina star has been directly involved in eight goals across 10 Wembley appearances, while Villa will be sick of the sight of a man boasting 10 strikes in his past six outings against them.

Within the context of Aymeric Laporte's injury struggles this season, Fernandinho has shifted seamlessly from defensive midfield lynchpin to become City's most reliable option at centre-back.

The 35-year-old typically provides an expert combination of aggression and poise while his rotating cast of partners cough up goal-causing mistakes.

Fernandinho's probing, purposeful passing from deep to get Guardiola's men back on the front foot early in the second half after John Stones' forlorn grapple with gravity in the build up to Samatta's powerful header ensured both sides of that equation were clearly evident at the national stadium.

Aguero and Fernandinho are under contract for 2021-22 but the current campaign amounts to a victory lap for the mercurial Silva, who will end a glorious decade in Manchester over the next three months.

Guardiola has frequently stated his plan for the club captain to symbolically pass the torch to Foden, who has waited diligently in the wings since his 2017 debut as the understudy to City's twinkling left-footed magician.

The realities of elite sport and the passage of time mean succession planning is rarely completely smooth, however, and the match against Villa often felt like Foden ripping the baton from his mentor's hand and tearing off on a journey mapped out in boyhood dreams.

Across 90 minutes in which Villa's refusal to go quietly was the main factor in City lacking the relentless rhythm that defines their best work, Foden was their most reliable outlet.

No-one else in their Hacienda-inspired black shirts led the dance as the teenager did, unquestionably the player most in tune with Guardiola's "take the ball, pass the ball" mantra when in opposition territory.

Foden completed 90 per cent of his 41 passes in the Villa half, set against 87.5 per cent of 32 from Silva, who he also outstripped in overall touches (71 to 57) and tenacity – (7/10 duels won to 3/8).

All the unmistakable Silva visuals remain – gliding into pockets of space in front of defenders and receiving the ball with eloquent mischief, all while shuffling easily as if in his favourite pair of carpet slippers.

And yet, each refined movement feels the tiniest split-second slower. Opponents can now generally close out those shafts of light where the 34-year-old used to thread his most delightful passes.

Foden became the player most familiar with the whites of Aston Villa eyes, daring them not to blink. One particularly velvety touch on the end of Oleksandr Zinchenko's raking 29th-minute pass almost brought a goal to savour.

Guardiola talked up the youngster's goal threat afterwards and no City player could match his five attempts on the day. Although not noted for his aerial ability, Foden's 20th-minute knockdown for Aguero means he now has seven assists to go with a pair of goals in 10 competitive starts in 2019-20.

Even without those impressive numbers, the evidence presented to 82,149 spectators was enough. On a gala day for City's most influential players of the past 10 years, Foden made a statement of intent for the decade to come.

Oleksandr Zinchenko lobbied for the EFL Cup to be renamed in Claudio Bravo's honour after the goalkeeper's Wembley heroics sealed a 2-1 final victory for Manchester City over Aston Villa on Sunday.

Goals from Sergio Aguero and Rodri ensured Pep Guardiola's side lifted the trophy for a third consecutive season, although Villa hit back through Mbwana Samatta before half-time and pushed them to the limit during a breathless finale.

Dean Smith's Premier League strugglers came agonisingly close to forcing extra time in the 88th minute when Bjorn Engels rose above the City defence, only for Bravo to somehow push his header to safety via his right post.

A torrid debut season in English football in 2016-17 saw the Chile international lose his status as Guardiola's regular number one, but a cup that has now worn blue and white ribbons in five of the past seven campaigns has become a salvation of sorts for Bravo.

In 2017-18, he proved the difference during penalty shoot-out victories over Wolves and Leicester City on the road to Wembley and he was an ever present this time around after a ruptured Achilles left him as a spectator last term.

"It's unbelievable. Someone said in the dressing room they have to change the name of the cup – not the Carabao Cup, the Claudio Bravo Cup because he is the hero again," Zinchenko said.

"We are so happy for him."

EFL Cup glory in 2018-19 proved the catalyst for an unprecedented domestic treble – a feat that will not be repeated this season as Liverpool count down to the formality of becoming Premier League champions.

City's FA Cup defence resumes in the fifth round at Sheffield Wednesday this midweek, however, and they are bolstered by renewed belief in Europe after a statement 2-1 win at Real Madrid in the first leg of their last-16 tie.

"We are focused on the next game all the time. We can only speak about good season or bad season after the season," Zinchenko insisted.

"In the last couple of years we have been playing in 11 competitions and won eight titles [three EFL Cups, two Premier Leagues, two Community Shields and an FA Cup], which is incredible. We are still fighting for everything

"I hope [we can win three trophies again]. That is why we are working hard, everyone every day. I dream of it."

Guardiola again sprung surprises with his teamsheet at Wembley, making eight changes from his much-discussed starting XI at the Santiago Bernabeu, with heroes of the Madrid victory Kevin De Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus having to make do with places on the bench.

"It's so difficult for the manager, I cannot imagine. It's not an easy decision in this case," Zinchenko added, having failed to make the matchday squad in the Spanish capital before being handed a cup final start at left-back.

"Everyone deserves to play and everyone has to understand this kind of situation. Nobody can be sad, we have to support each other. That is the key."

Raheem Sterling says Manchester City are "fully focused" on completing a treble after beating Aston Villa 2-1 in Sunday's EFL Cup final.

City lifted the trophy for a third year in a row - and the fifth time in seven seasons - thanks to goals from Sergio Aguero and Rodri inside the opening 30 minutes at Wembley.

Mbwana Samatta's header gave spirited Villa hope and City survived a scare when Bjorn Engels' header was turned onto the post by Claudio Bravo late on.

Sterling concedes his side have no hope of overhauling the 22-point gap on Premier League leaders Liverpool, but the forward is eyeing up more silverware in the Champions League and FA Cup.

The reigning Premier League champions lead Real Madrid 2-1 ahead of the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie and travel to Sheffield Wednesday in the fifth round of the FA Cup on Wednesday.

"The league has been difficult," he told Sky Sports. "We won one title so far and we're still in the running for two more so we we're fully focused and ready to do the business.

"We just have to keep focused and that's what we've done here.

"It's so hard to [win it] for three years on the bounce and that's what we have done - we just need to keep going and winning trophies."

Including the Community Shield, City have now won eight of the last nine competitions they have entered and head coach Guardiola does not expect any team to match that level of dominance.

"I think the fact that we've won eight of nine is incredible - it's remarkable," he said. "I think it will be so difficult to do it again, not just for ourselves but for our opponents - it's the consistency.

"For this club it's not just about one title, it's about every game we play and every title we play for counts and try to win and that is the best thing we can give for this club.

"Sometimes you win a title and then after cannot win a title for a long time. 

"What is important is everybody knows we have the responsibility to fight and try to win the games and titles and that means a lot."

Jack Grealish described himself as "devastated" after Aston Villa fell to a 2-1 EFL Cup final loss against Manchester City at Wembley.

The lifelong Villa fan was visibly emotional at the end a match that was ultimately settled by Rodri's controversial goal, which came from a corner that should not have been awarded, with the ball clearly having come off Ilkay Gundogan last.

Grealish was proud to push Pep Guardiola's side close, with Bjorn Engels having seen a late header pushed onto the post by Claudio Bravo after Mbwana Samatta had reduced the deficit. 

"I'm devastated, but we took one of the best sides in Europe all the way to the end," he told Sky Sports. 

"They had their fair share of chances, as we knew they would, but we hit the post late on.

"The winner is a goal that should never have been a goal – it was not a corner. The referee said [Gundogan] was off the pitch when it hit him. 

"We wanted an explanation at half-time but he didn't want to give one. A club like us who haven't won anything in a while and we lose by a goal that shouldn't have stood.

"We're proud of each other. City are in the top two or three teams in Europe. We always knew it was going to be tough and now we focus on the league."

Dean Smith's side are locked in a battle for Premier League survival, sitting 19th in the table and two points adrift of safety.

Pep Guardiola expressed his delight at Manchester City's "incredible" run of EFL Cup success after his side saw off Aston Villa to win the trophy for a third straight year.

First-half goals from Sergio Aguero and Rodri proved enough for City at Wembley on Sunday, despite Villa striker Mbwana Samatta replying before the interval.

The 2-1 win means City have come out on top in five of the last seven editions of the tournament, with Guardiola at the helm for the 2018, 2019 and 2020 final victories over Arsenal, Chelsea and Villa respectively.

"Three times in a row is a big success," Guardiola said, per BBC Sport. 

"It is the consistency - incredible.

"It was awesome. We struggled in the first minutes and the last ones. They had two clear chances in the first minutes but we played really well, especially in the second half.

"The game was good. Phil [Foden] was clinical. It is a big success, our second title of the season with the Community Shield, it is so nice."

Guardiola believes his determination to take every competition seriously has been rewarded with City's run of silverware in a tournament they have now won seven times in their history, a total only bettered by Liverpool's eight.

He added: "We have won a lot. I tried when we arrive [to ensure] every game we play we try to win it, every competition we try to win it. Three times in a row being here and winning is great."

Rodri conceded Manchester City "suffered" in their pursuit of a third successive EFL Cup title, which his controversial goal ultimately secured.

Pep Guardiola's side earned a 2-1 win over Aston Villa at Wembley on Sunday, Rodri having headed in his side's second from a corner that should not have been awarded.

Mbwana Samatta's goal before the interval – following a calamitous error from John Stones – ensured it was no walk in the park for City, who survived a late Villa barrage that included an almighty scare when Claudio Bravo turned Bjorn Engels' late header onto the post.

It would have been harsh for City to concede a leveller given their general dominance of the match, but Rodri confided that it had been a tough battle.

"We know they are a really tough team because they are really tall and strong, so we knew we could never give up," he told Sky Sports.

"I'm happy for the team because it's tough being here. I think they scored because of our mistake.

"At the end, we suffered a little bit but I think we had enough chances to score more goals, but we are happy for the team.

"It's the second title for us [after the Community Shield] so we are very happy."

Phil Foden, who was excellent for City, echoed his team-mate's sentiments regarding the challenge posed by relegation-threatened Villa, and rejoiced in his own input, which included an assist for Sergio Aguero's opener.

"I have to say fair play to Aston Villa, they gave us a really good game," he said.

"When I play, every minute counts, so I try and do my best and I'm very proud of my performance.

"You look at players like Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva, who are great, so when I get into the team I have to make the most of it."

Manchester City won their fifth EFL Cup in the past seven seasons with a 2-1 victory over Aston Villa at Wembley on Sunday.

Sergio Aguero's goal got the defending champions up and running, with Rodri heading in a controversial second from a corner that should not have been given.

Mbwana Samatta's diving header got Villa back in the contest ahead of the break but City dominated the second half before surviving an almighty late scare.

Having been on the back foot, Villa came close to a last-gasp leveller as Bjorn Engels forced Claudio Bravo into a fine save, tipping his header onto the post as City won the trophy for a third year in a row.

This trophy formed part of a historic domestic treble in the last campaign and City's hopes of FA Cup success are still alive, even if their Premier League title defence has been left in tatters by a Liverpool side who suffered a shock loss to Watford on Saturday.

If City are to collect another hat-trick of trophies it will also require a maiden Champions League success, with Wednesday's stunning 2-1 win at Real Madrid raising hopes on that front.

It was eyebrows that were raised when Guardiola's team was announced, showing eight changes from that midweek starting line-up, with Kevin De Bruyne the headline name on the bench.

Villa, who have won the competition five times but not since 1996, made a bright start and Anwar El Ghazi headed narrowly over from Ahmed Elmohamady​'s delivery.

With City having won seven of the last eight matches against Villa, scoring nine goals in this season's two league fixtures, it was little surprise to see them grow into the contest and Sergio Aguero looped a header onto the roof of the net.

The breakthrough came after 20 minutes when Rodri picked out Phil Foden, who nodded into the path of Aguero to convert via a slight deflection off Tyrone Mings.

City won a corner 10 minutes later that should have been a goal-kick, the ball clearly having come off Ilkay Gundogan last, and from that set-piece – taken by the German – Rodri headed home.

Dean Smith's side showed tremendous character to reduce the deficit before the break, John Stones stumbling comically under a high ball as El Ghazi capitalised, his cross converted by Samatta.

Foden bounced a shot wide from the edge of the box early in the second half as City sought to snuff out any threat of a turnaround, with De Bruyne's introduction soon after another indication of their intent.

It became a game of attack versus defence, with Villa pinned back, and it took a stunning Orjan Nyland save to keep out Rodri's downward header.

Remarkably, Villa almost snatched a leveller, but Bravo produced a superb save to push Engels' attempt onto his right-hand upright in the dying moments.

 

What does it mean? Silverware lining for City

City have had a long time to get used to the idea the Premier League trophy will not reside at the Etihad Stadium next season, and so competitions like the EFL Cup – evidently not taken lightly by Guardiola – have taken on added importance.

This is yet another piece of silverware to add to his and the club's collection, which should provide a boost for a run-in that could yet yield two further prizes.

Villa, meanwhile, must quickly dust themselves down as they seek to secure their top-flight status.

Classy Foden shines on Wembley stage

Foden's first City goal came in this competition against Oxford United in 2018, his performance then earning rave reviews from Guardiola, who has used him relatively sparingly. But Foden's class was evident again in London, the English midfielder showcasing his exquisite first touch on numerous occasions, while also providing a headed assist for Aguero's opener.

Mason misses the obvious

Given City's dominance of the match, it might seem churlish to single out referee Lee Mason's role as being pivotal, but such a brazen mistake – the award of the corner which led to Rodri's goal – on such a big stage is hard to overlook. Besides, Stones' error was humiliating enough without also singling him out here...

What's next?

City head to Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup on Wednesday, with the Manchester derby to follow on Sunday. Villa's fight for survival takes them to Leicester City a week on Monday.

Kevin De Bruyne will start Manchester City's EFL Cup final showdown against Aston Villa on the bench.

De Bruyne starred as Pep Guardiola's side came from behind to win 2-1 at Real Madrid in the Champions League on Wednesday – creating Gabriel Jesus' equaliser before dispatching a late penalty to give City a first-leg advantage in the last-16 tie.

But Guardiola has opted to manage the workload of his star playmaker, who sat out large chunks of last season with two separate knee injuries.

Club captain David Silva takes the armband from De Bruyne as he returns to the starting line-up alongside Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho, the experienced trio having been named among the substitutes at the Santiago Bernabeu, while England Under-21 midfielder Phil Foden looks set to complete a front three that also includes Raheem Sterling.

Elsewhere on another eyebrow-raising team sheet from Guardiola – showing eight changes from midweek – there are defensive recalls for John Stones and Oleksandr Zinchenko.

Orjan Nyland has been named in goal for Villa, the understudy having impressed sufficiently in the semi-final triumph against Leicester City to keep the experienced Pepe Reina on the bench. Similarly, City understudy Claudio Bravo retains his cup place at the expense of regular number one Ederson.

City are aiming to extend their recent dominance of the competition by winning a fifth EFL Cup in the past seven seasons, along with a third in succession having beaten Arsenal 3-0 in the 2018 final before overcoming Chelsea on penalties 12 months ago.

When the sides met at Villa Park in January, Aguero hit a hat-trick and De Bruyne excelled as the visitors ran out 6-1 winners.

Kevin De Bruyne will start Manchester City's EFL Cup final showdown against Aston Villa on the bench.

De Bruyne starred as Pep Guardiola's side came from behind to win 2-1 at Real Madrid in the Champions League on Wednesday – creating Gabriel Jesus' equaliser before dispatching a late penalty to give City a first-leg advantage in the last-16 tie.

But Guardiola has opted to manage the workload of his star playmaker, who sat out large chunks of last season with two separate knee injuries.

Club captain David Silva takes the armband from De Bruyne as he returns to the starting line-up alongside Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho, the experienced trio having been named among the substitutes at the Santiago Bernabeu, while England Under-21 midfielder Phil Foden looks set to complete the front three alongside Aguero and Raheem Sterling.

Elsewhere on another eyebrow-raising team sheet from Guardiola - showing eight changes from midweek - there are defensive recalls for John Stones and Oleksandr Zinchenko.

 TEAM NEWS IS IN! 

XI | Bravo, Walker, Stones, Fernandinho, Zinchenko, Rodrigo, Gundogan, Foden, D Silva (C), Sterling, Aguero.

SUBS | Ederson, G Jesus, De Bruyne, Bernardo, Mendy, Mahrez, Otamendi.

 @HaysWorldwide
 #ManCity #CarabaoCup pic.twitter.com/kH4Crx2TC9

— Manchester City (@ManCity) March 1, 2020

Orjan Nyland has been named in goal for Villa, the understudy having impressed sufficiently in the semi-final triumph against Leicester City to keep the experienced Pepe Reina on the bench. Similarly, City understudy Claudio Bravo retains his cup place at the expense of regular number one Ederson.

City are aiming to extend their recent dominance of the competition by winning a fifth EFL Cup in the past seven seasons, along with a third in succession having beaten Arsenal 3-0 in the 2018 final before overcoming Chelsea on penalties 12 months ago.

When the sides met at Villa Park in January, Aguero hit a hat-trick and De Bruyne excelled as the visitors ran out 6-1 winners.

Pep Guardiola says there is little he can offer to improve Kevin De Bruyne as he is the type of unique talent who will challenge himself to continue reaching greater heights.

De Bruyne has been the jewel in Guardiola's Manchester City crown since taking over at the Etihad Stadium ahead of the 2016-17 season.

The Belgium playmaker once again showed his importance to City with a stunning display in the midweek Champions League encounter at Real Madrid, which they won 2-1 to steal a lead in the last-16 tie.

After creating the first goal, the nerveless De Bruyne struck the winning penalty, a particularly vital moment given City had missed their previous four spot-kicks.

The praise continues to pour in from pundits for De Bruyne, a player who Guardiola says he has to offer little in terms of advice as he shoulders the responsibility himself.

"Honestly, these type of players, or most players I would say, the challenge comes from themselves, inside themselves," Guardiola said ahead of the EFL Cup final against Aston Villa. 

"If you have to push them to reach something special it's because they are not big, big, big. I don't like the players who complain about things. 

"As a guy he will want to reach something above what he has done, it depends on him. I don't believe too much to seduce them if you want to be a better player. 

"Players know what drills or skills to improve. It has to come from him, from something inside. The big outlets in all sorts come from inside, not because the trainers or someone has to tell them. 

"With the biggest one there is one detail, one special detail, is never complain, never make a complaint about the clubs, organisations, managers. They know the reality, they face the difficulties, they face, 'okay we are going to overcome, we are going to be better and better day by day and do it'. 

"That is only the biggest ones, the other ones they stay in positions and after they change clubs and they cannot be in the top clubs and all the time make the reason why this is for the other ones. 

"The big ones always look at himself, that is the best way. Unfortunately, it was not good enough when we went to 100 points to be the best player in the league. Maybe in the future."

Guardiola added that the only reminder he gives De Bruyne is to always keep things simple.

"It's not necessary to say absolutely anything about Kevin, just take a look how he plays," he added.

"At the end a player plays for himself and the manager through our teams. The performance, the continuity, the influence in our final third, in our finishing, in our desire, his calm and positivity. 

"When I say, 'Kevin, what did you feel before you take the penalty [against Real Madrid]?', he said, 'I'm going to score'. He doesn't feel much pressure, he likes to play in the big events. He is an exceptional player.

"Always I said to him the simple things Kevin, don't forget to do the simple things properly.

"Sometimes he's alone and loses the ball and I say, 'Kevin, you cannot do it because you are able to see something special, you have the spaces when no one can say sometimes you do it'. 

"But I think even with that he is improving and improving. You cannot forget he is not 33 years old or 34, he still has a lot of years to play and always you have the feeling when he is on the pitch, even when he's not taking influence in a period of a game especially, you always have the feeling that he's never disconnected and he has something to do and it's important."

Guardiola's side can win a fifth straight domestic trophy and third consecutive EFL Cup by beating Villa, something the City manager feels would be just reward for their "courage".

"The Carabao Cup is not the same as the Premier League and I would prefer to be winning the Premier League, but at the same time it is a good competition," Guardiola said. 

"I remember the first game when we were at Preston and we used Eric [Garcia] and Taylor [Harwood-Bellis] and they played to win the game.

"That is what I like of my teams, it happens all the time. There is not one opponent that can say they faced one of my teams, Manchester City, Bayern Munich or Barcelona, and we didn't try to win. 

"It takes courage and bravery to try to win all the time. Sometimes we have to defend more or use more long balls but that is only because we are up against a good opponent, not because we want to."

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane stressed Toni Kroos' absence from his team in midweek was a tactical decision and he told reporters to stop looking for another meaning behind the omission.

Germany international Kroos was surprisingly left out of Los Blancos' starting line-up for the first leg of the Champions League last-16 tie against Manchester City, which Madrid lost 2-1.

The 30-year-old had started five of Madrid's six group games and Zidane confirmed after the loss that there was no injury, though Kroos did not even make it onto the pitch.

Madrid face Barcelona in Sunday's El Clasico, with Kroos training as normal on Saturday, and despite suggestions there could be a rift developing between player and coach, Zidane was quick to shut down such talk.

"Always when there is a bad result you look for something," he told reporters.

"We did not lose because he didn't play.

"There are things that can happen in a specific moment, in a match, and we have chosen this team.

"Those who came in played well and I chose a different alternative to Toni Kroos the other day. There's nothing else.

"You do not have to look for other things."

Luka Modric, Casemiro and Federico Valverde all started in midfield against City, with Kroos having started in Madrid's previous two LaLiga games, neither of which they won.

Zidane's side host Barcelona on Sunday knowing a third successive defeat in all competitions would leave them five points behind the leaders in the title race.

 

Jurgen Klopp says Manchester City’s defeat of Real Madrid shows the strength of the Premier League despite Liverpool’s massive lead and he believes the Reds can get even better.

Liverpool are a mammoth 22 points clear of defending champions City as they bid to claim a first league title since 1990 in record-breaking fashion.

Klopp's men have dropped points only once all season - in a 1-1 draw at Manchester United – and are set to be crowned champions at a canter.

The German insists this is not evidence of a poor top flight, however, pointing to City's 2-1 Champions League first-leg victory in Madrid as proof Pep Guardiola’s side are still a force to be reckoned with.

"I couldn't care less [what people say]," Klopp said. "Look, it is completely normal. I don't think that we should have any concern for things like this.

"If other people think like that, if they think City are not as good as they were, they are. They have scored a little less goals than us, conceded a few more, and if you look why, it is clear they have been missing some players.

"The other teams are really strong, too. Yes, Bayern [Munich] beat Tottenham and Chelsea [in the Champions League] but they are really strong over a season.

"Yes, [Tottenham and Chelsea] have had some problems, that's all true. But in the moment that you play them, you don't feel that they have these problems. The points they have, we have no influence on that apart from the games when we play them.

"So, [Liverpool's dominance] says nothing about the quality of the Premier League, especially when you look at City v Real Madrid.

"I know that people look at these things, and you saw one of the best teams in the world maybe in the moment, and City were clearly better, so that shows as well how strong the league is."

However, Klopp still sees room for Liverpool to improve "in all departments", even if results could hardly be better.

"There is still a lot of work to do and a lot of space for improvement," he said.

"You see our games and result-wise it looks okay, but performance-wise there is a lot of space for improvement. That is what we work on and try constantly through the week.

"Result consistency is maybe difficult to improve because that is close to perfection, obviously, but it is possible to improve the performances in all departments.

"There are so many things you can improve that that will never end."

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