Jürgen Klopp has been trying his best to suggest Manchester City’s visit to Turf Moor this afternoon could be a stumbling block in their attempts to retain the title but after twice beating Burnley 5-0 this season Pep Guardiola has his own opinions about that as well as about the Liverpool manager’s effort to gee up their opponents.
“Klopp said he always knew we would win the Manchester derby, which was more than I did,” the City manager said. “I wasn’t quite sure we would win at Old Trafford but he seemed to have more confidence in my team.
“I don’t really mind what is said or done at this stage of the season because it now depends on ourselves and no one else. If we win our last three games we will be champions and there’s nothing anyone can do.”
Guardiola was a guest at the FA Youth Cup final in midweek, when City appeared to be cruising to victory against Liverpool until a late slip-up allowed their opponents back into a game they went on to win, though he laughed at the idea that what happened to the U18s might represent some sort of omen.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I enjoyed that game but all it proved is that half an hour of extra time can be a very bad idea for players who are so young. I don’t have any other feeling about it, just the feeling that Burnley, Leicester or Brighton are going to have to be better than us to stop us taking the title.”
With City on a run of 11 consecutive league victories Guardiola is speaking from a position of strength. Last year’s record total of 100 points cannot now be matched but 89 points with three to play is far from shabby.
Regardless of whether City retain the title or not, in fact, Guardiola believes City have already moved on to the next level from last season and credits Liverpool for their part in the process.
“The next level is not a big reach because we’ve already got there,” he explained. “The consistency we have shown is part of it, the next generation of players will know what is expected of them.
“Of course it is better when you can point to a title as proof but, when you’ve done 100 points in one season and reached 89 before the end of the next, that is a lot. We have increased the level a little bit and that is good but the only difference this season from last is Liverpool.
“We did the same last season but Liverpool are much, much better. They have bought incredible players and been really consistent, too. The other clubs were at the same level last season but Liverpool have improved and that meant we had to raise our game too.”
Winning back-to-back titles would be a first for City, who are not yet in the same historical bracket as Liverpool and Manchester United. The strike rate has improved in recent years, but Guardiola would still become the first City manager to win the league on more than one occasion should his side prevail again. Guardiola also believes his team can grow even stronger.
“I don’t have any doubts about that,” he said. “There are always things we can do better, quicker, understand in a different way. If I felt we could not improve, it would make no sense to still be here, and besides I have a joy in training and working with these guys.
“They have been down and they have been tired but always they have been happy to be working together. That is all that a manager can ask, because the moment you are tired of your players you know they will be tired of you. That is when the manager has to go but at the moment the mentality every single second is to score goals and win our games. Then we will be back next season, hopefully stronger.”