Manchester: Pep Guardiola faces Manuel Pellegrini — his predecessor as Manchester City manager — this weekend with his defending Premier League champions on course to smash even more records.
While City go to West Ham with only a two-point lead at the top of the table, Guardiola’s side has nevertheless looked even more impressive than they were 12 months ago.
The statistics bear out that analysis, with City averaging exactly three goals per game and on course to better last season’s Premier League records of 100 points and 106 goals for the whole campaign.
In that context, perhaps the fact that Guardiola this week claimed he is a better manager now than at any stage of his career with previous clubs Barcelona and Bayern Munich should not have come as a surprise.
“Now, I feel being here I am a better manager too, because I learned to handle this incredible league in many circumstances,” said Guardiola, speaking at Liverpool University.
“It is the toughest one, for the amount of games, for the weather and the referees saying: ‘play [on], play [on], play [on]’ and the competitors, there are many. It is the only country that five or six [teams] can win the Premier League.”
Pellegrini, who spent three years in charge of City and won a league title and two League Cups in that period, will doubtless agree with Guardiola’s assessment about the difficulty of succeeding in the English game.
The 65-year-old Chilean’s meeting with Guardiola may also be slightly awkward given recent allegations in the Football Leaks reports.
German newspaper Der Spiegel reported a claim that Guardiola had actually signed a contract to manage City in October 2015 even though the club did not announce his appointment until February 2016.
Since he took over for the 2016-17 season, Guardiola has led City to new heights, signing an extended contract with the club in May worth a reported £20 million ($26 million, Dh95.4 million) a year that will keep him at the Etihad Stadium until the summer of 2021.
Guardiola also confirmed his desire to try his hand at international level before he retires, opening up the possibility that he could manage a team at the next World Cup, late in 2022.
“Sooner or later it will happen because every three days I would like to be involved but a little bit more calm, play more golf,” said Guardiola.
“If I have a chance and some international team wants to come ‘knock knock’ we will see.”
Guardiola has more mundane concerns ahead of the meeting with Pellegrini’s side, with left-back Benjamin Mendy having been ruled out for several weeks after undergoing knee surgery.
With the Frenchman out, Fabian Delph, who captained England from midfield this week, is the likely replacement, having performed that role superbly for much of last season.
But the more pressing concern is influential playmaker Bernardo Silva, who left the Portuguese national squad this week with an unspecified injury.
Bernardo has blossomed in the absence of another injury victim, Kevin De Bruyne, and his loss could prove problematic for Guardiola. City were awaiting medical reports on the Portuguese midfielder before taking a decision on team selection.