Pep Guardiola believes his Manchester City players are ready to position themselves for glory over the course of a “terrible” February schedule.
The reigning Premier League champions will return to the top of the table above Liverpool on goal difference if they beat Everton at Goodison Park on Wednesday.
That fixture was moved forward to accommodate City’s appearance in the EFL Cup final against Chelsea later this month – two weeks on from this Sunday’s Premier League home match versus Maurizio Sarri’s side.
There is also the first leg of a last-16 encounter against Schalke in the Champions League and an FA Cup fifth-round tie to negotiate – leading Guardiola to conclude that the true peril of a season in England lies just beyond the fabled festive period.
“When I was abroad before I came here, everyone talked about December and Boxing Day, these kind of things,” he said.
“After Boxing Day was finished I looked at the schedule and said ‘this is worse!’ and that’s true. If you are out of some competitions it is more comfortable but [if not] February is tougher.”
The depth of City’s squad makes them well-equipped for such challenges, which Guardiola was keen to point out are “a privilege”, with the battle for Premier League glory against Liverpool and Tottenham primed to go to the wire.
I prefer to be in the position of Liverpool. The pressure is when you are behind and you lose points, it’s tougher.
Prefiero estar en la situación del @LFC. La presión es cuando estás por detrás y pierdes puntos. Es más duro.#MCIARS #ManCity pic.twitter.com/EyChOwMdSH
— PepTeam (@PepTeam) February 3, 2019
“I’m pretty sure the winner will be [decided in] the last fixture or the last two,” he said.
“At some point it is a problem, with all the games and the mental effort to be successful in all competitions, when you lose one game you can lose that competition.
“In the Champions League we know that – a bad 30 minutes and you are out. That demands a lot of stress and sometimes you need a little bit of a break.
“But at the same time, when you arrive in this month and in March, when the days are longer and you see the end of the season closer – the pitches are in better condition and you can take a coffee outside – and you are in four competitions you think, ‘wow, we can do something special’. That is a plus.
“We are not right now in that position. This month is terrible. Every game is a final and you have to wait.”
City suffered their half-hour nightmare in the Champions League at Liverpool last season, finding them 3-0 down midway through the first leg of a quarter-final at Anfield before going down 5-1 on aggregate.
While this triumph arguably did much to fuel Jurgen Klopp’s bid to unseat City, Guardiola pointed to the reaction to that setback as a demonstration of the character his players must show over the coming weeks and months.
“I trust my players,” he added. “I always put this example: we were 3-0 down in a Champions League game at Anfield and the way we reacted, our personality to play was good.
“I have a feeling that when I put on pressure, they react good. They accept the challenge to show me again how good they are.”
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