Manchester: Pep Guardiola has suggested that it is win or bust for Manchester City’s Premier League title challenge ahead of Thursday’s showdown against Liverpool after last night saying that it was “over” if his team dropped more points.
The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager went on to say the situation would have been “almost impossible” if City had not beaten Southampton on Sunday and hailed Liverpool, who have a seven-point lead, as perhaps the best team in world football.
Liverpool have also won two and drawn one of their past three head-to-head meetings, and Guardiola does not expect them to now make many slips. “We knew it,” he said, following the 3-1 win at St Mary’s.
“In the position of Liverpool, we drop points, it’s over. It’s finished. It would be almost impossible. Of course, I think they’re going to drop points, but not too many. If we want to be there as far as possible until the end, we have to win games.
“The problem is the other team is fantastic. Maybe the best team in Europe or the world right now and in top form. You have to accept it.
“When Liverpool is seven points in front, it’s because they don’t lose a game, they don’t concede, they start in incredible form, top players, all together four or five years with Jurgen [Klopp].”
Liverpool were emphatic 5-1 winners over Arsenal on Saturday and are unbeaten this season in the league and on a run of nine straight victories. City captain Vincent Kompany described Thursday’s match as one that players “live for” and urged the Manchester City supporters to make the Etihad’s atmosphere intense.
“Our pride has been hurt over recent weeks but we have everything to play for — it depends on us,” said Kompany.
“Every living soul that comes into the stadium has to be ready to fight and give it to them, and we should be able to pull everything out of the locker for that game.”
Kevin De Bruyne is a doubt after missing yesterday’s win with a muscular injury but City were boosted by the return to the starting team of both Fernandinho and David Silva, who scored the first goal. Left-back remains a problem position, even if Guardiola made a particular point of praising Oleksandr Zinchenko, despite his mistake in the build-up to the Southampton goal.
“He was the best player on the pitch,” said Guardiola. “Do you know why? After the mistake, he never hid. He never said: ‘I don’t want the ball.’ His reaction was outstanding — one of the most incredible things I have ever seen, and he will learn.”
Guardiola also referenced the importance of the crowd on Thursday after what has been one of the most difficult months of his entire tenure at the club.
“It’s not easy after 100 points, what we have done, winning the Community Shield, and winning a lot of games,” he said. “Thursday is a challenge for us and we will try to win. We are not here to send messages to Liverpool. Liverpool know what they have to do. We know what we have to do. It’s first against second next Thursday. I know the distance is big — seven points — especially because they are so solid and consistent.
“But it’s a game at home and hopefully the extra help from our people at the Etihad can come. I think in my heart, these people deserve it. What they have done the last 40, 50 months, how they defend this club is incredible. It’s massive.”
Guardiola also acknowledged the importance of having Fernandinho fit again and was relieved that he was not injured following a late tackle by Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg that resulted in a straight red card.
“We were a little more aggressive, we were clearer with the ball, everybody played simple,” said Guardiola. “We missed a lot of chances. Liverpool is not going to give us I think this amount of chances. We have to make a step forward again. If you want to make something in the Premier League, the last two games will dictate it. That is the first, we did it, we will see the second.
“Of course, there are many, many incredible things to fight for: not just the Premier League, the FA Cup, semi- finals of the Carabao Cup, and the Champions League, and improve.
“Hopefully the team play better. If not, there’s no sense. If not, why should I be here after what we have done last season?”
— The Telegraph Group Limited, London 2018