EPL

Guardiola lauds 'exceptional' Man City and Liverpool ahead of Chelsea clash

By Sports Desk January 14, 2022

Pep Guardiola insisted consistency is the only reason for Manchester City's sizeable lead at the Premier League summit, as he hailed the "exceptional" nature of his side and their long-time rivals Liverpool.

City host Chelsea on Saturday as first take on second, though Guardiola's side currently hold a 10-point advantage, with Liverpool 11 behind in third place.

Following their 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge earlier this season, City are looking to secure the Premier League double over Chelsea for the fourth time, previously doing so in 2009-10, 2015-16 and 2017-18.

They have won their last 11 Premier League games, their fifth such run of 11 or more consecutive victories in the competition.

However, despite his team's healthy lead, Guardiola does not believe Chelsea or Liverpool have dropped off. Instead, he credits City with finding another level of consistency.

"The Premier League is the strongest," he told reporters. 

"We are here now because we were consistent, especially in the toughest month in December, when there were many games and how we overcame the tough situations we had in the squad, problems with injuries and COVID.

"We got results playing really good, but also not good, like against Arsenal how we were able to win. We were consistent. This is the reason why, no secrets.

"My opinion about Liverpool and Chelsea does not change one bit. They are more than excellent teams. One is the champion of Europe, the other is the biggest rival in the last two, three, four seasons.

"Football changes quickly. What you have to do is rise and increase a bit our football compared to the last two teams we've played. We'll have to do it tomorrow to compete."

Guardiola then enthused about the continued level of performance of both City and Liverpool, who have had a thrilling rivalry in recent seasons, adding: "I have to say it was because Liverpool and City were exceptional, not because the others were wrong.

"[Manchester] United were close I remember one year with [Jose] Mourinho, and last season, but we were exceptional. What Liverpool and City have done in the last four years has never been seen before in this country.

"Antonio Conte with Chelsea started a little bit in my first season here but after that Liverpool and City made a step, and I think the other opponents did well, Chelsea, United, Tottenham, but Liverpool and City were out of this world.

"I'm proud, after six years together, five years of success, that in January we are competing in every single game. That is an incredible credit to these exceptional players. My job is to put my words behind them, tell them the truth, that's what I need to continue."

Guardiola did, however, hit out at the suggestion City had been fortunate with COVID-19, something which Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk and Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel both claimed.

"It's a situation that's all around the world. We've had injuries, COVID," said Guardiola, who was one of 21 members of City's squad to miss last week's FA Cup win over Swindon Town after testing positive.

"We had a lot of people with COVID. At the beginning of the season we've had a lot of incredibly tough injuries for our players. They believe we were lucky - okay, we were lucky. The thing is the pandemic is all around the world, we are exposed to the virus, we are not the exception.

"If they believe this is the reason why... maybe. Sometimes it's the money we have, sometimes it's COVID."

Saturday's game is just the second between City and Chelsea in the Premier League in which they are the top two teams. The other such match finished 1-1 in 2015.

After beating Liverpool 4-0 in July 2020, and Chelsea 1-0 earlier this season, City are looking to become the fourth English club to win three consecutive meetings with reigning European champions in all competitions, after Notts County (1982), Tottenham Hotspur (1983-84) and Everton (1984-85).

Related items

  • Conte's squad frustrations laid bare as Chelsea outclass Spurs again Conte's squad frustrations laid bare as Chelsea outclass Spurs again

    A big week now approaches for Tottenham – while no manager will ever admit to being happy about losing, Spurs' 2-0 defeat to Chelsea on Sunday may actually do Antonio Conte a favour.

    The Italian has hinted at his desire to bring in reinforcements this month. Until this point, Spurs have not given into his apparent demands, but another loss to Chelsea might force their hand.

    The last week of the transfer window is about to begin and there is every reason to think it could define Spurs' season given the clues on show at Stamford Bridge.

    This contest arguably lacked the usual lustre in the build-up given how recently they tussled in the EFL Cup, a two-legged semi-final that left the two clubs looking worlds apart.

    Even Conte himself was damning in his appraisal of their respective outlooks, suggesting there was no comparison between his side and the team that won the Champions League last season.

    Chelsea won their EFL Cup tie 3-0 on aggregate, thus Conte knew changes were going to be required here.

    He returned to his former club with a plan, but perhaps few expected him to go – for want of a better phrase – 'full Mourinho'.

    The 'Special One' built much of his reputation on being tough to beat, and Conte certainly made several decisions that were Jose Mourinho-esque, not least the fact he deployed full-backs in front of full-backs on the flank as the Italian seemingly set his side up to be functional rather than entertaining.

    That's not to say Chelsea didn't find some joy. Mason Mount proved a nuisance with his movement in the half spaces in attack, with Spurs struggling to pick him up as he seemed to fall outside of the jurisdiction of everyone in defence and midfield.

    That was evident as early as the first minute as his cross found Romelu Lukaku, who volleyed over – later, they combined in exactly the same way but the Belgium striker completely missed his kick.

    Eventually Spurs reacted to Mount's presence with another Mourinhoism, as Pierre-Emil Hojbjerg slotted in to plug the gap in that area, something Mourinho's central midfielders often used to do in his classic Chelsea sides that went with two banks of four.

    With Harry Kane accompanied by Steven Bergwijn in the Lucas Moura role up top, Spurs' grand plan was pretty clear as they hoped to be able to capitalise on any rare forays forward – it looked as though they had as well, with the Dutchman picking out the England captain to net just before half-time, only for the goal to be wiped out for a slight push on Thiago Silva.

    But there was seemingly an ulterior motive surrounding Conte's selection and tactics as well, as he appeared to be sending message to sporting director Fabio Paratici.

    Three viable and available central attacking players were completely left out, with Dele Alli, Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso all missing – the latter even confirmed on social media that he was fit.

    Harvey White, still awaiting his Premier League debut, and Dane Scarlett, a 17-year-old, were selected ahead of them on the bench, with Conte's decisions here a not-so-subtle evaluation of the attacking midfielders available to him.

    The fact is, this came just two days after Conte said he hoped "the club will listen to me" regarding their transfer dealings before the end of the month – he didn't reveal what he had put across to his employers, though these exclusions were surely a hint at the very least.

    Given the options otherwise available to him – as in the players he trusts in midfield – Conte perhaps didn't actually have much of a choice to deploy this set-up.

    But can Spurs realistically hope to qualify for the Champions League with their only trusted central midfielders being Hojbjerg, Harry Winks and Oliver Skipp? You would think not, and certainly not on the evidence of this match, with Spurs barely laying a glove on Chelsea bar the disallowed Kane goal as the hosts were allowed to control the midfield.

    Of course, it's worth saying Spurs were also a little unfortunate. Whichever way you look at it, the disallowing of Kane's goal was harsh, and Hakim Ziyech's gorgeous opener was a moment of magic. 

    Silva's second was controversial as well because the foul that was awarded from which Mount set up the Brazilian appeared to be questionable.

    Yet even if they had still been within touching distance of Chelsea heading into the latter stages, a quick glance at the benches showed an incredible gulf in talent available to the managers.

    There's a lot of work to be done with Spurs' squad and the next week could make or break their season.

  • 'It was important to him' – Napoli captain Insigne matches Maradona goal haul 'It was important to him' – Napoli captain Insigne matches Maradona goal haul

    Lorenzo Insigne moved alongside Diego Maradona on Napoli's all-time list of leading goalscorers after hitting his 115th goal for the Serie A club.

    The Italy international converted a penalty early in the second half of Sunday's 4-1 derby win against Salernitana.

    That meant he joined Maradona in a tie for third place in the Napoli record books.

    Dries Mertens heads that list and slotted a penalty just before half-time to give Napoli a 2-1 lead, his 144th goal for the club.

    Belgium international Mertens stepped aside to allow Insigne to take responsibility for the second spot-kick in the 53rd minute.

    Insigne had come on as a substitute for the start of the second half, and Mertens said: "I left the second penalty to Lorenzo because it was important to him."

    Writing on Instagram after the match, Insigne expressed his delight at the victory.

    He will leave at the end of the season to join Toronto FC, but the 30-year-old insisted he would always hold the club dear.

    "The derbies are not played… they are won…. We continue like this until the end," Insigne wrote. "Always and forever FORZA NAPOLI."

    Insigne is now six goals behind second-placed Marek Hamsik on the Napoli goalscoring list.

    The late Argentina legend Maradona remains the greatest and most revered player in Napoli's history, having joined from Barcelona in 1984 and spent seven years in Naples.

    He helped Napoli win league titles in 1986-87 and 1989-90 – the only Serie A championships the club have won – and his death in November sparked an outpouring of grief in the city.

    Sunday's goal was Insigne's sixth goal of the season across all competitions, with Napoli's win moving them just four points behind Serie A leaders Inter.

    Mertens believes Napoli can still push Inter hard for the title, saying on the club's website: "We must continue like this and look only at us. The championship is still long and we can be protagonists."

  • Ancelotti: Small details cost Madrid in dramatic Elche draw Ancelotti: Small details cost Madrid in dramatic Elche draw

    Carlo Ancelotti suggested "small details" cost Real Madrid in a 2-2 draw with Elche that required a spirited late recovery.

    The LaLiga leaders missed the chance to move six points clear at the top of the table as they were held by their 15th-placed opponents, who took a surprise 2-0 lead at the Santiago Bernabeu.

    After Luka Modric's penalty gave them hope – his first spot-kick for Madrid after Karim Benzema, who earlier missed from 12 yards for the first time in LaLiga, went off injured – it took a stoppage-time header from Eder Militao to spare Madrid's blushes and extend their year-long unbeaten home run in the Spanish top flight.

    While Madrid were waiting to discover the extent of Benzema's injury, Ancelotti said he was disappointed with the manner in which Elche scored – netting twice away at Madrid for the first time since January 1989.

    But the coach was at least encouraged by his team's response, remaining unbeaten against Elche since 1978, having now scored at least two in 10 of the 12 games in that span.

    "They scored a goal with a centre. For the second goal, we could have been more compact," Ancelotti said. "They are small details that have cost us two points

    "We are not happy, but there are many things we have to consider. 

    "We conceded two goals and we reacted well. Usually these games are lost, but it speaks very well of the squad."

    There are 11 days until Madrid return to action when they face Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals, 12 days before taking on Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League round of 16.

    "We have a small break, and we arrive well-positioned in all three competitions," Ancelotti added. "That's what we wanted to do. 

    "We are there, now comes the most important period of the season."

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.