London: Pep Guardiola has assured his returning Manchester City players that he will be even “harder” with them this season as he attempts to become the first manager in a decade to win back-to-back Premier League titles.
After an exhausting summer, many of his record-breaking players have yet to return to peak match-fitness, with Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling not due to return to training until Monday following their World Cup exploits.
They and their teammates can expect to find their demanding Catalan manager seeking even more from them as he looks to duplicate his experience in Spain and Germany where, in each case, he won three consecutive league titles, with Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
“I’ve had the situation in Barca and Bayern and we were able to repeat it and win back to back,” said Guardiola as he prepared for Sunday’s Community Shield meeting with Chelsea. “Maybe here it’s more complicated because of the contenders. All the teams are good. Imagine at the start of last season, saying we are going to make 100 points. So it’s the same situation — at my first press conference, saying we’re going to make 100 points — impossible.
“With perspective, we’ll realise how good last season was but you have to have the target. I don’t know what hunger we have. We will see. I don’t have an answer for that but I’ll try to repeat what we have done in Barca and Bayern, to be harder with my players.”
Complacency was certainly never an issue with his players last season, even with the title all but guaranteed with months remaining. City went on to set new Premier League marks for most points, greatest margin of victory, most wins and most goals.
And Guardiola, who opens the season at Arsenal next weekend, has made it clear he will not tolerate his players resting on their laurels. “If they think after they have won, ‘OK, I’m really good!’ then that is the moment we start to go down,” said Guardiola. “So you have to be clear with them.
“I don’t think too much about next week or February or January, something like that. Now it’s to prepare for the Community Shield. After we will see if we’re able to win back to back.”
Guardiola’s opening game pits him against new Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri.
“We are going to improve because of his ideas,” said Guardiola of Sarri’s arrival. “I’ve seen three games and he gets it. The team already, in a short time, plays like he wants. Chelsea will be a big rival, they always are. He will be perfect for English football.”
Guardiola goes into Sunday buoyed by the announcement yesterday that Brazilian striker Gabriel Jesus, 21, has signed a new contract that will keep him with the club until 2023. “Gabriel has improved a lot since he came — his courage, his fight, every effort for the team,” he said. “I’ve never met a striker who fights like him for the team.”
City have not had such plain sailing in the case of another Brazilian, Douglas Luiz, who was signed 12 months ago but was loaned to Girona last season. Guardiola is keen to have the 20-year-old midfielder in his squad this season, but City are bogged down in the process of gaining a work permit for him.