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Guardiola backs Delph for World Cup berth

Manchester City's English midfielder Fabian Delph heads the ball during the English Premier League football match against Manchester United April 7, 2018
AFP

Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Pep Guardiola believes Gareth Southgate would be taking a risk if he did not name Fabian Delph in England’s World Cup squad after an impressive season from the Manchester City utility man.

Delph, 28, overcame three injury-ravaged seasons to become Guardiola’s first-choice left-back following the knee problem suffered by Benjamin Mendy in September.

His form, and ability to play numerous positions, has seen the former Aston Villa midfielder emerge as a strong contender for Southgate’s squad.

Southgate visited Guardiola and his English contingent for talks at their training ground on Friday.

Delph won his ninth, and most recent, cap in November 2015, but Guardiola clearly believes his player should be on the plane to Russia when Southgate finalises his squad.

“Maybe it will be a risk if he doesn’t take him to the World Cup,” Guardiola said when asked if Southgate would be taking a gamble if he names Delph.

“Today Gareth Southgate was here, we speak together about the English players in the team, he is delighted with all of them; John Stones, Kyle (Walker), all of them. Delph as well. 

“I would like to see Fabian Delph at the World Cup, of course it depends on Gareth, because I think he deserves it.

“He is a player who can play in different positions, he helps us to play good football, to be better, to give an extra pass.”

Question marks persist about Delph’s durability, however, with the City man scheduled to make what would be just his 30th Premier League start in three seasons when the champions faces Huddersfield on Sunday.

It is a point not lost on his club manager and an area Guardiola is looking to improve. 

“He has a good heart, he is a fantastic person,” said Guardiola. “I think he is a guy for the group. 

“Last season, he didn’t play but he always helped the team, he was always there. 

“He encourages the guys that are playing in his position, it is important for the balance of the dressing room to have to good guys who are playing and good guys who are on the bench.

“And he is an exceptional player, the only problem and I agree with you is the fact about injuries. 

“Our dream for next season would be regularly more fit than he was in the last two seasons, especially last season. But we are going to try and work on that.”

– Honest Sterling –

Another City player whose career has been blighted by injuries is captain Vincent Kompany, who will lift the Premier League trophy for the third time in seven years after the Huddersfield game.

Guardiola is keen to try and ensure the 32-year-old enjoys a trouble-free campaign when he enters the last season of his contract in August. 

“We miss him when he is not fit. When he is fit he is one of the best central defenders I have seen in my life,” said Guardiola. 

“But his problems are a bit similar to Fabian in maintaining fitness. Now we have the same feeling as we had last season when we finished with seven wins in a row. 

“He played all the games and we said: ‘Vinny is back’ but then at the start of this season there were problems. Hopefully next season that won’t happen.” 

Guardiola has also leaped to the defence of forward Raheem Sterling whom, he believes, has gained an unfair reputation for simulation after failing with some high-profile penalty claims this season.

“He has to learn that in terms of accepting the reality,” said Guardiola. 

“Of course, people talk too much and say he is diving. People start to talk about that and then people start to believe that.

“He is a guy who is quite honest. He is smart, intelligent and he is not a guy who kicks the opponent. But this is a problem for the referees, not for Sterling.”

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