Pep Guardiola wary of Liverpool's hunger for the Premier League title as he plots Manchester City's recovery
The champions are seven points behind Jurgen Klopp's side going into Thursday's clash at the Etihad Stadium
Pep Guardiola believes it will be easier for Liverpool to claim the Premier League title than Manchester City because Jurgen Klopp’s players are not sated by the success of becoming champions.
While City are bidding to become the first team to retain the title since 2009, Liverpool have not won the league since 1990, but Klopp’s charges could go 10 points ahead of their hosts at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday if they are victorious.
Guardiola stated he was “delighted” with how his players have responded after a record-breaking campaign while underlining that last year was unique.
He said: “I know what happens when you make 100 points, win the Premier League, a lot of nice words and compliments for all of us, but it is how you come back from that and we did it.
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“You cannot expect to be 12 or 13 points clear at Christmas time. It happened once in our lifetime. But my feeling is last season it was a little bit easier to maintain that hunger because 80 per cent of the players had not won anything in our lives.
“I can feel what the Liverpool players feel: after 29 years not winning the Premier League, to be there to win.”
While City were frontrunners last season, they are chasing now.
“If it is different pressure, we have to handle it,” said Guardiola of the situation that his players find themselves in.
“Honesty, I don’t know [if they can]. Maybe people expected we would always be top but we are Manchester City, we are not Liverpool or Manchester United. It is quite usual in their history.”
While Guardiola boasts a stellar record against other managers, defeats outnumber victories when he has come across Klopp, but he said: “We have a good relationship. I don’t play against Jurgen and Jurgen doesn’t play against me. I beat him, he beats me.”
Liverpool are unbeaten in the league this season but City, who drew 0-0 at Anfield in October, are the lone team to keep a clean sheet against them. “We are an incredible team defensively, the only team that can stop Liverpool,” joked Guardiola.
More seriously, he said he was both calm and confident, adding “It is Liverpool, with United the best team in England in history,” he added. “But we can beat them.
“It is a big opportunity for us to reduce the gap. If we are not able to win, [the gap is] 10 points, with goal difference [in effect] 11.
“It is almost a final for us and for them nothing changes. It is a dream to play these kind of games. I am more calm, more relaxed.”
Liverpool arrive at the Etihad Stadium having only conceded eight league goals this season, with a defence built around Virgil van Dijk.
The £75 million (Dh347.5m) centre-back was on City’s radar before joining Liverpool a year ago and Guardiola said: “He is an exceptional player. When a player costs whatever it costs and it works, it is well worth it.
“The problem is when you pay less and it doesn’t work, that is when it is so expensive.”
City midfielder Kevin de Bruyne will have a fitness test as Guardiola waits to discover if the Belgian, who missed Sunday’s win at Southampton, is fit to return.
“He trained [yesterday] but we need another check in the morning,” Guardiola said.
Updated: January 3, 2019 09:02 AM