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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Pep Guardiola vows Manchester City 'will improve' after the international break

City on the same points at the same stage they were last season - 10 - and says rivals Liverpool and Chelsea have raised the bar this term

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola saw his side sign off before the international break with a 2-1 win over Newcastle. Reuters
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola saw his side sign off before the international break with a 2-1 win over Newcastle. Reuters

Pep Guardiola has admitted Manchester City’s title rivals have raised the bar in their bid to overthrow the champions.

City posted a Premier League record 100 points last season but have made the same start in the current campaign, with 10 from their opening four fixtures, only to trail Liverpool and Chelsea. Jurgen Klopp’s team are five points better off than at the same stage last season and the Londoners, now under Maurizio Sarri, have three more than they mustered under Antonio Conte 12 months ago.

“We have the same points as this time last season,” Guardiola said. “Our opponents have more points than then, Chelsea had dropped points and Liverpool a few. We knew [their quality]. We want to be at our best level but I am so surprised at what happened last season.”

Guardiola’s side beat Newcastle United 2-1 on Saturday but were held by Wolves seven days earlier. He expects his side to be better after the international break, arguing the packed summer and the school holidays have both had an impact on his squad.

“We will improve,” he said. “It’s impossible after the World Cup mentally for the players to be in the best condition, the best approach. We need more time and after the international break the season starts properly in terms of having games every three days. The mums and dads bring their kids into the schools, they have more order, and we start again. I’m delighted with the points and the way we played.”

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Guardiola will have to rotate his squad when City are playing three games a week. So far, Fernandinho has been an ever present, with the 33-year-old midfielder’s importance increased when a summer attempt to sign an alternative failed as Jorginho instead opted for Chelsea.

Guardiola has pledged to omit the Brazilian at times, though he accepts he is hard to replace, explaining: “Fernandinho is a gift. We are going to give him time to rest. Now it’s no problem because we play one game a week. It’s so important, because his personality and mentality defensively with the set pieces and the long ball means he is a key, key player.”

Kyle Walker has also emerged as a pivotal figure in his time at the Etihad Stadium but while the right-back has made an impact in other respects, his wait for a first City goal lasted until the second half on Saturday.

“The other day he had a shot against Wolves which nearly hit the corner flag, so it’s just a persistence thing,” said his fellow defender John Stones.

“It’s about good ball connection and getting it on target. He has done it in training a few times, to be fair, and got in some great positions. He has an unbelievable strike, and that proved it.”

Stones is his fellow Yorkshireman’s closest friend in the City dressing room and the pair will be together again with England during the international break. Stones expects Walker to mention his 30-yard strike time and again in the next two weeks, adding: “There’s no escape, but I don’t mind his company, to be fair.”