Pep Guardiola relishes the pressure as Manchester City look to close in on Liverpool
The champions can gain ground on their Premier League title rivals in a busy week of action
“A new challenge,” Pep Guardiola said. Not winning the Premier League, let alone a league title.
The Catalan has seven to his name as a manager: three in Spain, three in Germany and one in England. They have come with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City. But they came in similar circumstances.
“Always as leader,” Guardiola explained. His sides are natural front-runners. “I prefer to be like last season, but we know that is exceptional,” he said.
City’s lead was into double digits before Christmas 2017. Now the scenario is different. City are playing catch-up, five points adrift of Liverpool.
“If we are going to win by coming from behind: how?” Guardiola mused. “How are you going to do that, to come from behind to win the title. How? How? What do we have to do? It is the only way we can be focused.”
And yet the equation could change rapidly. City play the first of three demanding fixtures in eight days on Sunday. But victories against Arsenal, Everton and Chelsea would put them top if Liverpool drop points to either West Ham United or Bournemouth.
The Everton match, brought forward because of City’s participation in the Carabao Cup final at the end of the month, has the potential to reshape the standings.
“It is an important week,” Guardiola said. “Pressure comes day by day. That is why I like the Premier League. Every time is less games left to play and we have to make a lot of points if we want to be real contenders. Every game you are closer or you are further away from your wishes and your dreams.”
City’s last game extended the distance. They took the lead after 24 seconds against Newcastle and were still defeated. It was the third in time six weeks they lost after leading. They were more ruthless and more flawless last season.
It was around this stage then that Guardiola was captured in the documentary All or Nothing telling his players they were the best team in England. The message remains the same. “I love them, I like them, I trust them,” he said. “So of course I believe it.”
One theory to explain City’s sporadic struggles – in between, they have shown a propensity to thrash sides – is that, especially in the injured Vincent Kompany’s absence and with the quieter David Silva wearing the captain’s armband, they lack leaders.
Guardiola rebutted it. “I have a lot of leaders, people who make a step forward when the situations are going bad but they have to do it again and again,” he said.
“Of course, there are guys with a huge personality to talk, but that is for itself. I am not going to say a guy who is shy, who expresses himself with a lot of character on the pitch, but off the pitch is more quiet, that you have to talk your talk. We cannot bring him out and tell him to be something he doesn’t feel.
“I met incredible players that didn’t speak one word. And I saw a lot of players who speak a lot in the locker room, [saying] ‘I want to do that’, and afterwards go out on the pitch and they are under pressure, [saying] ‘I don’t want the ball and I don’t want to defend’. There are so many of these kinds.”
In any case, an eloquent statement can be made without saying a word. “You send a message the way you play,” Guardiola said. “The opponents, the managers, they are watching the games on TV and when they say ‘wow, how good they are, how good they play’, that is the best pressure you can put on.”
Updated: February 3, 2019 02:28 PM