EPL

Table-topping City staying calm in 'marathon' season, says Guardiola

By Sports Desk January 26, 2021

Pep Guardiola was uninterested in Manchester City's ascent to the Premier League summit for the first time this season after they beat West Brom 5-0 at The Hawthorns.

City endured a tough start to the campaign but have since won 11 games in succession in all competitions, most recently blowing the struggling Baggies away with four first-half goals on Tuesday.

That victory was enough to take Guardiola's team to the top of the table, although Manchester United could reclaim first place by beating Sheffield United on Wednesday. City would then have a game in hand.

This back-and-forth does not yet concern Guardiola at the season's midway stage, however.

"The last thing I'm thinking about is the table," said the City manager. "Now I want to come back home safe, have a few days off and then Sheffield United. That's my only concern.

"Today just finished the first leg – we have still 19 games, an incredible marathon. We are going to drop points, we are going to lose games.

"What is important is, whatever happens, be calm – like we were when we were 12th in the table.

"We have to understand why we didn't win a game and immediately win the next one. This is my only concern."

City are the ninth different team to end a day top of the pile this term, a statistic that prompted Guardiola to respond: "This is the Premier League. Welcome, this is the Premier League.

"It's so tough. You see the teams up front, then look at West Ham and the incredible season they're doing, Leicester look unbeatable, and the other teams.

"It's so tough, so tough for everyone, and every game is complicated.

"It's important we have a good run and say, 'Okay, this is the reason why we are here, now the next one'."

City moved ahead of United despite missing Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero at West Brom, with Ilkay Gundogan taking centre stage with a brace before the break.

The midfielder has scored seven league goals since December 15, making this the most productive season of his career.

Guardiola previously described Gundogan as "one of Europe's best players" and insists the Germany international is still performing at the same level, even if his goal rush is garnering greater attention.

"Sometimes you have to score goals to get the recognition as a football player that he was all the time," Guardiola said of his number eight, who also created a single chance, made a tackle and an interception and won all five of his duels.

"He's an exceptional human being, first of all – I know his parents, I understand why – and he's my neighbour, so we have a connection. And he's an outstanding player.

"He's a guy who has played as a holding midfielder – so, so clever – and when he plays close to the box, he has the right tempo to make the run.

"It's not arriving in the box 10 times or 20 times, one metre before or one metre later, you have to arrive at the right tempo and the right time. He's so good.

"And when he arrives, he has the calm to slow down the action to make a decision. I'm happy for him. He deserves the best."

Gundogan has never started more than 23 games in a Premier League campaign but has always retained Guardiola's backing.

"I would say improvement is not the case," he said.

"Always he showed his level, except the first season when he had ACL and we struggled a lot to settle him in the team because he was injured. Every time he played, he played at a high level."

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