London: Pep Guardiola believes Manchester City will welcome “the best team in the Premier League” for the sumptuous feast against pacesetters Chelsea on Saturday.
The former Barcelona manager, still adapting to life in the English fast lane, will have a whole week to get ready for the Etihad Stadium clash that will pit together two likely title contenders.
That will seem almost luxurious after eight days that encompassed demanding games at Crystal Palace and Burnley — both won — either side of a 1-1 Champions League draw at Borussia Moenchengladbach.
But he knows Chelsea will be a different proposition.
“They have been amazing over the past five or six weeks,” said City manager Guardiola after Saturday’s victory at Turf Moor of Antonio Conte’s side.
“We will try to discover the secret of how we can beat them and we have six or seven days to prepare. Most of the players are tired.”
Chelsea manager Conte has warned his players to remain grounded despite sitting pretty at the Premier League summit courtesy of Saturday’s gritty 2-1 victory at home to Tottenham Hotspur.
“I think that today or in this period, if you talk about this, it is not right because we have to improve a lot and we have a long way in front of us,” Conte said.
“Above all after this type of game we have to wait, to speak, to not write things (in the media). It’s important to stay humble, to continue to work, to trust in our work.
“Above all after this type of game, because we won a game against a really strong team.
“On Saturday we’ll have another strong team and we don’t forget that against Arsenal and Liverpool we lost.”
While Conte cited the back-to-back defeats against Arsenal and Liverpool in September, he said his side were now “another team”.
Chelsea have been transformed since Conte switched to a 3-4-3 formation during the 3-0 defeat at Arsenal and Christian Eriksen’s goal was the first they had conceded in 601 minutes of top-flight football.
Both Conte and Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino agreed the difference between the teams had been their efficiency in both penalty areas, with Chelsea weathering a first-half storm to take control of the game after the break.
Spurs’ high press caused Chelsea serious problems in the first half, but Conte said he would continue to ask his players to play the ball out from the back.
“We are working for only four months on some aspects. I want to play from the back and I ask this of my players,” he said.
“If someone thinks the fault is the players — no, the fault is mine, always. I want to do and see some situations that we work on during the training sessions. I want to see this.
“I repeat we can improve a lot, starting from the back, but it’s important to start.”
Guardiola had reason once more to be grateful to Sergio Aguero, the prolific City striker who he has criticised over his work-rate and who has yet to sign the new contract that has been long in the offing.
Aguero’s predatory nature — netting both in the 2-1 win — ensured that City go into their toughest month of the season with a victory.
The Chelsea game next Saturday will be followed by matches against Arsenal and Liverpool before December is out, as well as a visit to defending champions Leicester City.
And Guardiola can look ahead with no new injuries to worry about, after confirming that Raheem Sterling’s withdrawal at Burnley was tactical.
The subdued England winger had been the target of home fans, who chanted: “You’ve let your country down!”
Guardiola said: “He is an England player and a really nice guy. I like supporters who support their teams.”