Thursday, May 23, 2019

Manchester City title defence not lacking leaders, Guardiola insists

SoccerNews in English Premier League 2 Feb 2019

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Pep Guardiola is certain Manchester City do not lack leadership on the field as they begin a key run of fixtures with their Premier League title on the line.

City slumped to a 2-1 defeat at Newcastle United on Tuesday, a fourth defeat in nine top-flight matches, although a 1-1 draw for leaders Liverpool at home to Leicester City 24 hours later limited the damage.

Victory over Arsenal on Sunday will move the champions to within two points of Jurgen Klopp’s men and back above Tottenham, with Liverpool in action on Monday at West Ham.

A midweek trip to Everton follows for Guardiola’s side in a fixture moved forward to accommodate their participation in the EFL Cup final against Chelsea.

A dress rehearsal of that game takes place at the Etihad Stadium on February 10 and the coming eight-day period promises to reveal much about whether City are capable of becoming the first club since Manchester United in 2008-09 to retain the Premier League crown.

The losses to Crystal Palace, Leicester City and Newcastle United were all suffered after going a goal ahead, but Guardiola does not believe this is down to his team not having enough leaders, even if they are not all of the traditional, vocal variety.

“I have a lot of leaders, people who make a step forward when it’s going badly, but you have to do it again and again,” he said.

“Of course there are guys with huge personalities to talk, to communicate, but that is for [the player] themselves.

“I’m not going to say to a guy who’s shy, who plays with a lot of character on the pitch but off the pitch is quiet and doesn’t talk too much, ‘You have to talk.’ That comes from inside.

“I’ve met incredible players who didn’t speak one word, and a lot of players speak a lot in the locker room [saying], ‘I want to do that.’ And they go on the pitch and under pressure: ‘I don’t want the ball, I don’t want to defend.’ [I have met] many of this kind.

“So everyone is like everyone, but to say, ‘That team [City], they don’t have the personality to do that,’ I think … we can do more, of course – myself the first – but I think we have it.”

City’s accomplishment of a 100-point season last time around offers evidence to back up Guardiola’s assertion but, having led strong frontrunners to glory at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, he concedes battling for a championship in charge of a team that has to chase is not something he is used to.

“Maybe, yes, a new challenge,” he said.

“I prefer to be like last season, but we knew that was exceptional. The satisfaction will be the same, of course, if we win and especially if we are who we are.

“The players know it, they know exactly the way we are. We are a strong team.

“It would be nice but these kinds of questions … I don’t know what I’m going to feel in two or three months.

“It comes day by day, that’s why I like the Premier League. I like the competition every few days because it measures who you are and what you have to do, for the pleasure to play as good as possible, to win games the way we want to play.”

Guardiola added: “That’s the measure we have as a team, and myself as a manager. The titles will be a consequence of that. How are you going to do that, coming from behind? We can only be focused on what we have to do.

“When we win, we analyse the bad things and when we lose, [we analyse] more. If the other [teams] will be there, we’ll shake the hands of the champions and we’ll try next season.”

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