EPL

Guardiola: Tottenham in title contention under Mourinho

By Sports Desk November 20, 2020

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola believes Tottenham are contenders to win the Premier League this season thanks to the "really good" work of Jose Mourinho.

Second-place Spurs are unbeaten in seven top-flight matches since their opening-game defeat to Everton - the longest-such run in the division - and are a point behind leaders Leicester City.

Tottenham host City on Saturday and are seeking a fourth successive league win for the first time since February 2019 when Mauricio Pochettino was in charge.

Friday marks exactly a year since Mourinho succeeded Pochettino and Guardiola has been impressed with his long-time rival's work in north London.

"He's done really good, as always in all the clubs [he's managed]," Guardiola said at Friday's pre-match news conference.

"The numbers speak for themselves. They dropped points against West Ham and Newcastle in the last minute - imagine the points if they hadn't.

"They are contenders. The quality they've got is always there. They qualified for the Champions League for four or five years and reached the final.

"They have been a good team since Pochettino took over. It is a fantastic squad."

City have lost their two meetings with Spurs at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in all competitions, including a 2-0 defeat in last season's corresponding fixture.

Their return of 12 points from seven league games is the fewest collected by a Guardiola-managed side but the Catalan coach insists his team are making good progress.

"We are getting better," he said when reflecting on the most recent meeting with Tottenham nine months ago. 

"But I don't want to focus on Tottenham - they are not my concern. We have a lot of games coming up and it is important we look to get everyone back fit."

Fernandinho and Nathan Ake will miss this weekend's match, while Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling are fitness doubts as they work their way back from injury.

"Except for Nathan and Ferna, the rest of the players have come back from international duty," Guardiola said. 

"Fernandinho is not fit. He has gastroenteritis, something in his stomach. Sergio trained this week. Raheem trained for the first time today with the team, so we'll see."

Mourinho has lost 10 of his 24 managerial meetings with Guardiola in all competitions - more than he has suffered against any other coach.

Guardiola, who penned a new two-year deal with City on Thursday, has only beaten Manuel Pellegrini (12) more times his career.

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    First of all, there are only so many conclusions you can make regarding Thiago and his time at Liverpool because he has not featured particularly often, as previously highlighted.

    But the fact is, Liverpool's record in Premier League games he has featured in is quite poor, with only one of those six ending in a victory.

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    The hype after that match was stratospheric – the champions had seemingly added the final string to their bow and they were seemingly set to overwhelm everyone, but it's worth bearing in mind that was a Chelsea side reduced to 10 men before Thiago had even come on.

    Liverpool average just one point per game with Thiago, that more than doubles to 2.2 when he hasn't played – additionally, their win percentage rockets from 16.7 to 61.5 in games the Spaniard hasn't featured in.

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    One of Hamann's major reservations related to Thiago's desire to dictate play and how he might, in the long run, negatively impact Liverpool's effectiveness off the ball.

    "Liverpool were always good when they weren't in possession, won it and played quickly forward. He's not that type of player, so it will be very interesting when he does play more often now how it's going to change the dynamics of the team," Hamann said.

    It's true, Liverpool do have more of the ball (65.7 per cent compared to 64.7) with Thiago in the side, but the difference is negligible and certainly cannot be pointed to as a cause for worry.

    The supply line

    Then there's the concerns relating to Thiago's style of play potentially impacting supply to the frontline. Well, the Reds average 18.7 shots per game when he plays (up from 14.9 without him).

    There is also no damning evidence to suggest Thiago isn't looking to feed the forwards either, after all, he passed to Mohamed Salah 11 times (a joint high) against Manchester United last weekend.

    He has picked out Salah 36 times in their 365 minutes on the pitch together – so, once every 10.1 minutes. Although that's less frequent than he passes to Trent Alexander-Arnold (once per every 8.2 minutes) and Andy Robertson (8.8 minutes), it shows he is supplying the Reds' most-threatening forward regularly.

    And while the two full-backs had off days against Burnley, can you really blame Thiago for passing to them often? Since the start of last season, they are Liverpool's leading providers of shooting opportunities.

    Additionally, his 14.9 passes into final third of the pitch per 90 minutes is second only to Jordan Henderson (16.2) among Liverpool players this term – Thiago beats him, and every other Red, in terms of successful passes in the attacking third every game, however (25.8, compared to Henderson's 20.5).

    "He's not that type of player"

    It's fair to say Thiago probably isn't best known for what he brings to teams off the ball, but despite some seemingly questioning him in this department, he appears to be at least pulling his weight.

    In fact, he's averaging marginally more tackles per 90 minutes than Henderson (1.5 over 1.4), while no one in the Liverpool team is intercepting opposition passes as frequently as the Barcelona product (2.8 per 90 mins).

    On top of that, he's ranked third in the squad for duel involvements (14.7 per 90 mins) – while not necessarily an indicator of excellence on its own, that should at the very least dispel any questions regarding his work rate.

    On an individual level when you look at the data, Thiago doesn't appear to be out of place stylistically. While he may occasionally spend more time on the ball than some of his midfield contemporaries, he possesses the kind of technical wizardry that arguably no other Liverpool player has and that is surely a positive rather than a negative.

    He's also clearly a hard-working player who offers plenty off the ball. So, while the Reds are going through a tricky patch at the moment, Thiago's abilities should be embraced rather than looked upon with suspicion.

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