Pep Guardiola is not surprised by Manchester United’s rejuvenation this season as he could feel Manchester City’s great rivals would bounce back.
A dismal start to Erik ten Hag’s stint in charge saw back-to-back losses against Brentford and Brighton and Hove Albion at the start of the season spark concern, but United have fought back to sit just four points adrift of City ahead of Saturday’s clash.
Since the mid-season halt of action for the World Cup, United have tallied six consecutive wins across all competitions, conceding just once, and can move within touching distance of City with a victory at Old Trafford.
While United’s revival has surprised many, City boss Guardiola is not among them as he revealed he had a feeling they were back to their best.
Asked what has changed at United, Guardiola said: “Tactically not much, but when you see the commitment without the ball, I always had the feeling that the strength, the quality of the Manchester United was always there.
“Since I arrived there was [Romelu] Lukaku, [Paul] Pogba, and top-class players everywhere, in every season. It doesn’t look like just City spend money in this league. Just see United and what they have done.
“I think United are playing now like they normally play in their history. So that’s why it’s not surprising for me. I said one month ago, I see something that United are back. And people say no, they’re not back. I knew it. I felt it.”
— Premier League (@premierleague) January 13, 2023
City come into the derby on the back of a surprise EFL Cup quarter-final loss against Southampton and know that defeat to United would drag them into a fierce battle for a top-four finish, as well as opening the door for Arsenal to extend their lead at the top to eight points when they face Tottenham.
However, Guardiola has no concern that his squad will not rise to the occasion and is confident they will show a response.
“Absolutely. I’m confident. I will never doubt them. Even if this season will be a mess and it will be not successful in the terms of the people’s expectations, I would never doubt the players,” he declared.
“But the fact I tell the truth doesn’t mean that I don’t rely on them. Against Southampton, I’ll tell them the truth and maybe they are not used to it because they are surrounded by people who say how good they are.
“It’s not like Erik ten Hag, who has been here one season. We are here for a long time and handling that is completely different.”
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