Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has urged Jack Grealish to seize an opportunity to finish the season strongly.

The England midfielder has so far this term been unable to reproduce the influential form he played in last year’s treble success.

The 28-year-old’s campaign has twice been interrupted by injury and there was also an unsettling off-field incident when his house was burgled while members of his family and girlfriend were in the property.

His latest setback came when he suffered a groin injury during City’s Champions League game at FC Copenhagen earlier this month but, after a speedy recovery, he was an unused substitute at Bournemouth on Saturday.

He could come back into the reckoning for Tuesday’s FA Cup fifth-round tie at Luton and Guardiola hopes he can make the most of it.

Guardiola said: “He started a bit late but (in) the last month Jack is back in terms of many things.

“That’s why he played an important game in the Champions League in Copenhagen. Unfortunately there was a setback after 10-15 minutes but he’s recovered quick and he is back.

“Hopefully (he can have) the impact he had last season. It depends on him.

“I try to be fair with my decisions. If he played a lot of minutes last season and this season a little bit less in the beginning, he is the same player. It’s the same manager, the same way we want to play. Nothing has changed.

“It is just how how we perform, that is the difference. We need him. I’ve said from day one we need him. He has a special quality for our team. Hopefully he can do a good last three months.”

With other players in good form, however, Guardiola admits Grealish will have to hit the ground running when the chance arises.

Grealish must compete with the likes of Phil Foden, Jeremy Doku, Julian Alvarez and Bernardo Silva, all of whom have been in better form this season, for a place.

Guardiola said: “I cannot give three or four games in a row in order to get the rhythm.

“They have to take a rhythm to play 20 minutes, 90 minutes, in the high level. You cannot wait.

“I’m going to give you three or four (games) for you be fit and the other 10 players don’t play?

“They don’t deserve the same? Of course they deserve it but that’s not how it works.

“You have to see in the training session, every moment all details.

“He’s the same lovely person, lovely guy, same qualities, skills. He has even more years to improve.

“So the players don’t have to convince me. They have to convince themselves that they deserve to play.”

Pep Guardiola has bluntly responded to Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s aim to knock Manchester City “off their perch” by pointing out he speaks “the truth”.

Ratcliffe completed his purchase of a 27.7 per cent in Manchester United this week and immediately set out his ambitions to restore the club to the top of the English and European game.

He did this by reprising the language of Sir Alex Ferguson, who similarly pledged to rein in Liverpool in his early days as manager at Old Trafford.

United have won just one trophy compared to City’s 14 in the past six seasons and Guardiola feels Ratcliffe’s acceptance of the Blues’ current pre-eminent status is the Red Devils’ first step towards a fightback.

The City manager said: “It’s the truth! As (soon) as the teams admit it, they will be closer to us.

“If they want to deny it for things that are not the reality then it’s their problem. It’s not our problem.

“When I’ve been below teams I’ve always admired them and thought about what we need to do to be close, to challenge them.

“If they want to be judged on things they are comfortable with for one day they will not arrive where we are now.

“When we were below and United were winning, we were watching them, admiring them. We wanted to learn from them.

“The period of Sir Alex Ferguson – the generation with Roy Keane, David Beckham, Gary Neville – and all those big, big players, Rio Ferdinand – I’m pretty sure City admired and thought ‘we want to be there’. Now we are there.

“That’s why, for these type of comments, that I have the feeling that they will be back.”

While Guardiola now expects United to improve under the guidance of Ratcliffe, who has taken control of footballing operations at Old Trafford, he insisted it was not something that concerned him.

The Spaniard said: “It’s not about (being) worried. I’m pretty sure with Sir Jim Ratcliffe and the other people that United are going to take a step forwards.

“I feel that they know exactly what they have to do, appoint the people they need to appoint with their experience in the business world to make projects better.

“But that is normal. It’s not just United. All the teams want it. We want to be there and as long as I’m here, we will try to be there again.

“What I want is Man City, my team, being there. The rest, I don’t care.”

Second-placed City travel to Bournemouth in the Premier League on Saturday with a chance to cut the gap to leaders Liverpool to one point in what is their game in hand.

Playmaker Kevin De Bruyne was not risked in the midweek win over Brentford due to what Guardiola described as “niggles”.

He would not confirm if he would return this weekend but said he was “pretty sure he will travel”.

Guardiola said: “He’s good. He’s not injured. He’s better but I don’t know if he’s 100 per cent. I think we took a good decision not to take a risk.”

Pep Guardiola admitted his side needed the killer instinct of Erling Haaland after they edged out Brentford 1-0 in a nervy encounter that left his side one point behind Premier League leaders Liverpool.

Haaland settled the contest in the 71st minute when he punished a slip from Kristoffer Ajer, running from the halfway line to slot the ball under the unfortunate Mark Flekken, who had another outstanding match against the reigning champions.

After a week in which Guardiola had to answer questions about the Norwegian star, whose misses proved costly in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea, Haaland made no mistake with one of the very few clear chances a well-organised Brentford side afforded City on the night.

“If I had to choose one (player), I choose this one,” Guardiola said of the moment.

It was Haaland’s third goal in seven games since returning from the foot injury that sidelined him for two months. Last week, he mourned the death of his grandmother Tone Rascal, mother of his father Alf-Inge, at the age of 80.

Asked if he had needed to speak to the striker, Guardiola said: “We spoke about the moment and I realised this later, but he didn’t say anything about the passing away of his grandmother. We talked about how he feels and of course for his father.

“In this type of game like Brentford, you need Erling. With not much space, you can play with a typical striker.”

City struggled to break down a determined Brentford side. Kevin De Bruyne was kept on the bench throughout the night, not even emerging to warm up with the game in the balance, and Guardiola revealed the Belgian playmaker had a hamstring issue, having already missed five months of the season.

“Today we could not use Kevin because he had niggles in his hamstring and I didn’t want to take risk,” he said, adding: “He’s okay. It’s just a precaution but he didn’t feel comfortable and so after five months off we didn’t take any risk.”

Brentford had defended doggedly before the goal, more than once having all 11 players inside their own box in open play. Bernardo Silva headed a glorious chance wide before Oscar Bobb created space only to shoot straight at Flekken, but otherwise there were few real opportunities.

Having taken six points off City last season, Brentford threatened to do damage to their title bid again this time before Haaland stepped in – he has now scored against all 21 opponents he has faced in the Premier League.

“I think throughout the game we were brilliant, I’m very proud and pleased with the players’ performance,” Bees manager Thomas Frank said. “They believed and it gives me a lot of belief in them going forwards.

“The way we defended the whole game was magnificent in terms of structure, defensive principles, urgency. Before the goal, we gave away the header to Bernardo Silva and the Oscar Bobb chance and it was two big chances. If you can limit City to two big chances, you have done a very good job.

“If (Ajer) doesn’t slip I’m convinced it would not be a goal. Haaland is quick but Kristoffer is as quick. City are good so they don’t need the margins going their way.”

Erling Haaland came to Manchester City’s rescue as the off-colour champions eked out a nervy 1-0 win over Brentford in the Premier League on Tuesday.

The prolific Norwegian, who spurned a host of chances in a frustrating draw with Chelsea at the weekend, returned to form as he broke the deadlock in a tight encounter at the Etihad Stadium after 71 minutes.

The win lifted City above Arsenal into second in the table, one point behind leaders Liverpool, having played the same number of games in what is shaping up to be a tight title race.

Pep Guardiola’s side dominated the first half, but the second period was proving a frustrating affair until Haaland broke clear of the Bees defence to slot home a fine finish.

Brentford were the last team to beat City at home in November 2022 and, having also tested them in a 3-1 loss earlier this month, again caused them problems.

City, with Kevin De Bruyne on the bench, started the brighter, with Haaland shooting at Mark Flekken after just three minutes and Phil Foden also forcing a save and having another effort blocked.

But Brentford, to their credit, were not content to sit back and did pose a threat on the counter-attack.

Yoane Wissa was denied a chance to shoot by a fine John Stones tackle and Frank Onyeka should have done better than firing straight at Ederson after being played through on goal.

Ivan Toney also shot narrowly over from a free-kick, but the hosts then laid siege to the Bees’ goal and it was remarkable the opening period ended scoreless.

Julian Alvarez twice missed the target before Bernardo Silva planted a header the wrong side of a post from close range.

Manuel Akanji had a good strike from distance tipped over by Flekken and Ruben Dias saw a header pushed away.

Oscar Bobb looked certain to score after skipping around Christian Norgaard, but Ben Mee stretched to clear off the line.

Brentford ended the first half with another chance as an Onyeka header was claimed at full stretch by Ederson and City were surprisingly slow to get going again after the break.

Guardiola tried to enliven proceedings by introducing Jeremy Doku on the hour, but the Bees responded by sending on the abrasive Neal Maupay, who clashed with Kyle Walker in the sides’ recent meeting.

After Foden blazed an attempt well over, it began to look like it might take something special to break the deadlock and that moment duly arrived 19 minutes from time.

Brentford were pushing forward, but their attack was broken up and the ball quickly moved forward, with Rodri finding Alvarez and the Argentinian releasing Haaland.

The Norwegian still had more than half the length of the field to run, but he was quickly into his stride and breezed past a stumbling Kristoffer Ajer before slotting past Flekken from the edge of the area.

The goal was greeted with much relief, but Brentford were not done and Toney shot narrowly over after Dias gave away possession.

City might have had more late on, with Haaland having a header disallowed for offside and Flekken twice saving from Foden.

Pep Guardiola believes Rodri is “by far” the best midfielder in the world but is pleased his performances do not always grab the headlines.

The Spain international was title-chasing Manchester City’s saviour on Saturday as his late equaliser rescued what could prove a vital point in a 1-1 draw against Chelsea.

It is now over 12 months – against Tottenham on February 5 last year – since City lost a match in which the 27-year-old played.

Yet his Champions League final-winning goal or this weekend’s dramatic leveller aside, he rarely steals the limelight from the likes of Erling Haaland or Kevin De Bruyne.

Guardiola admits that is just the way he likes it.

The City manager said: “I would say if the holding midfielder doesn’t get the same appreciation as the strikers or the number 10 then that is good. When a holding midfielder has a lot of appreciation, it is not good.

“The holding midfielder has to play positive, for him and for the team, and make the team play. This is the role for the holding midfielders. All the highlights have to be for the guys up front who score goals and make assists and so on.

“But Rodri always has the ability in important moments to score goals so he’s an unbelievable player. He’s the best midfield player in the world currently by far because he is able to do everything.

“What a signing. It’s difficult to understand how we could have done what we have done in recent years without him.”

Saturday’s result extended City’s unbeaten run in the Premier League to nine games but the loss of two points left the champions third behind Liverpool and Arsenal, four points off the top.

They are back in action when they play their game in hand, a rearranged contest against Brentford, on Tuesday.

Defender Kyle Walker is relishing what is shaping up to be a three-way battle for the title.

The England right-back said: “I feel that we’re up against two very, very good teams in Liverpool and Arsenal.

“Liverpool have got the momentum, and obviously with the manager leaving maybe it’s a little bit of enthusiasm that they’ve got now, to let him go out on a high.

“But we want to do something that no-one’s ever been able to do and that’s win four in a row, so we’ve got our own motivation.

“Now it’s the best team wins at the end of a tough, tough 38 games come the end of the season but I’m sure we’ll be fighting on all fronts as we always are.”

Pep Guardiola refused to blame Erling Haaland for wasting chances after Manchester City were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw by Chelsea on Saturday.

The normally prolific Haaland spurned a number of opportunities, including one glaring free header from six yards out, as the champions were held in a compelling Premier League clash at the Etihad Stadium.

City ultimately needed an 83rd-minute equaliser from Rodri to rescue a point after their former forward Raheem Sterling had put the Londoners on course for an unexpected win with a 43rd-minute effort.

City manager Guardiola said: “It’s good to have nine shots and next time he’s going to score.

“I was a football player for 11 years and scored 11 goals. What stats! One goal a season. I’m not a proper man to give advice to strikers.

“We create the chances; he had the chances and next time he’s going to score. I don’t blame him. It’s football, it’s human beings.”

Haaland looked frustrated at the end of the game and pushed away a TV camera, but it has been a difficult week for the Norway international after the death of his grandmother.

The result left City four points off the top of the table in third place, after title rivals Liverpool and Arsenal won earlier in the day.

City dominated the second half, but Guardiola felt they paid the price for a poor first-half display.

Guardiola said: “As a team and a group, the first half was not like we are.

“The demands are so high because no-one is going to give it to us, we have to do everything. We are Man City, so we have to do it for ourselves all the time.

“We had to improve the first half and the second half was unbelievable, how we played and how we made transitions.

“In general, it was really good after we conceded from Raheem but when we play teams with composure and prestige of Chelsea you have to perform at your best for 95 minutes.”

Chelsea’s season has been one of inconsistency, but manager Mauricio Pochettino felt they showed their true character against strong opposition.

Pochettino said: “We tried to prepare, all the coaching staff, to make the plan for the game but football is always a game that belongs to the players and today the execution and the performance was from them. They showed character.

“It was a really important game for us to keep the momentum to realise we are in a good way and improving.

“Still we are not at the level of Man City but that is our aim.

“We need to live this type of game to improve and to create the spirit we need. We show in every single game we want to be competitive.”

Mauricio Pochettino promised his Chelsea side would attack Manchester City when the two clubs meet at the Etihad Stadium for Saturday’s Premier League clash.

The defending champions drew a memorable game 4-4 at Stamford Bridge in November with former City player Cole Palmer scoring a penalty in stoppage time for the hosts to snatch a point.

Chelsea have endured mixed fortunes since, losing half of their 12 league fixtures, though following Monday’s 3-1 win away at Crystal Palace, they could climb to a season-high seventh place with victory against Pep Guardiola’s side.

With 14 games to go, the team have already score three more league goals than they managed in the entirety of the last campaign, when only four sides netted fewer.

Pochettino said there was no chance they would sit and wait for City – who have lost just once at home in the English top flight in almost two years – to come on to them.

“The lesson (from the first game) is that we’re going to face one of the best teams in the world, but at the same time you need to be brave enough to try to force them to defend, to run back and to face their goal,” he said.

“If we go there and wait to see what’s going on, it’s a team that can dominate you and will make you suffer.

“The most important thing we realised is that we need to attack, be able to run and to make the effort all together.

“The most important thing is to go there and be brave, to challenge them.”

Saturday’s game will be the first time Palmer has returned to the Etihad since his £40million summer move to west London.

Before making the switch, the 21-year-old scored for City in this season’s Community Shield, which was lost on penalties to Arsenal and in the UEFA Super Cup win over Sevilla.

He is currently top scorer for his new club with 12 in all competitions and has been arguably the standout success of co-owner Todd Boehly’s mammoth £1billion transfer spend.

Palmer had previously hinted that he moved as he did not believe he would get sufficient game time at City.

“He’s not the type of player that needs to prove anything,” said Pochettino.

“I think he really is very grateful for his period at Manchester City, (but) he left the club because he wanted to find another challenge and to have the possibility to play more.

“Man City have an amazing squad. (Clubs) make decisions that we think are the best for the team. It doesn’t mean someone is not a good player.

“Sometimes the circumstance doesn’t match. Players want to leave and you can’t stop them because you can’t provide the game time.

“It’s unfair to say they’re going to regret it. Man City are one of the best teams in the world and it’s not easy to find the space to play for a young guy.

“Someone here on the staff said to me ‘he’s from Manchester, but he looks like a Brazilian or an Argentinian’.

“He has the capacity to adapt so quick, because our strengths as South Americans, its that we come to Europe and we adapt very quick.”

Pochettino confirmed defender Thiago Silva would miss the game with a minor injury, though Levi Colwill and Malo Gusto were available.

Goalkeeper Robert Sanchez was fit for contention – having not played since December – but the manager would not say whether he would be selected ahead of Djordje Petrovic.

“You will see,” he said. “You never know in football what can happen.”

Phil Foden feels he is in the form of his life as he eyes a second successive treble with Manchester City.

The England midfielder stepped up in the injury-enforced absence of Kevin De Bruyne to thrive in a central role in numerous games in the first half of the season.

De Bruyne’s return to action over the past month has seen Foden’s position vary since but his performance levels have rarely dipped.

Playing alongside De Bruyne, the 23-year-old again excelled in Tuesday’s Champions League victory at FC Copenhagen, capping a fine display with an eighth goal in 10 outings.

“I think it’s the most run of games that I’ve played in a City shirt consistently,” said Foden. “I’m in good form, scoring consistently and helping the team as much as I can and I’m delighted with that.

“I want to keep doing that, that’s the goal every game. I’d say I’m playing my best football in a City shirt.”

Foden has been touted for big things since he was in City’s junior ranks but it is now over six years since he made his senior debut.

When prolific striker Erling Haaland joined De Bruyne on the sidelines in December, Foden felt it was time he took responsibility.

“I think I had to,” said Foden, who scored a hat-trick in last week’s Premier League win at Brentford. “They are two massive players for us, so key last year for us winning the treble. It was time for me to step up.”

City’s 3-1 win in Copenhagen in the first leg of their last-16 tie was their 11th in succession in all competitions.

They are strongly fancied to defend all three of the major trophies they won last season and Foden has no doubt the team have the hunger to do so.

He said: “We’re showing that we’re still determined and playing the same football as last year and still wanting to win all the games. Hopefully that continues and we don’t drop our level or form.

“We’re focused. We stick by each other and it’s a pleasure to be a part of this team. I look around the dressing room and I still see the determination and hunger.”

Foden has made no secret of his preference to play in a central position, something which became a matter of national debate earlier this season when England manager Gareth Southgate selected him in a wide role.

Foden said: “I’ve said previously that I prefer to play in the middle but I’ll do a job wherever the manager puts me. Tuesday I was out wide, and I got a goal and an assist. I’m delighted.”

Pep Guardiola was left to rue injuries to Jack Grealish and Bernardo Silva after Manchester City returned to Champions League action with a 3-1 win at FC Copenhagen on Tuesday.

Grealish, handed his first start in six matches, lasted just 21 minutes of the holders’ largely straightforward last-16 first-leg success at Parken Stadium before being forced off with a groin injury.

Silva, who put City into a 2-1 lead just before the break with a fine flicked finish, took a knock to the ankle late in the game.

The double blow comes after Josko Gvardiol missed the game with an ankle injury and Mateo Kovacic was also unavailable.

City manager Guardiola said: “It’s something muscular with Jack, his groin.

“He felt it on the grass, started to complain. The players can feel it immediately if it’s muscular. It’s a pity, he’s gutted.

“He wanted to continue but we didn’t want to make the damage even worse. We’ll make tests tomorrow.

“Bernardo has a big knock in his ankle and Josko is out two to three weeks. Kova is ready to come back.”

The injuries took the gloss off what was a mainly comfortable night for City.

They took an early lead through Kevin De Bruyne and, dominant in all departments, should have led by more before Magnus Mattsson levelled after an Ederson error.

Silva restored the lead and Phil Foden gave the scoreline a more realistic look in stoppage time.

Guardiola said: “It was really, really good. I’m so proud we played at that tempo. It was perfect.

“We were patient in the right moments but it’s not done. I know how difficult it is.

“It’s not decisive but a good result. Hopefully we can finish at home in front of our own people and go to the next round.”

Danish champions Copenhagen had not played competitively for two months due to their league’s winter break and their rustiness was evident.

Coach Jacob Neestrup admitted it will now take something spectacular to progress but will not give up.

He said: “Of course it’s going to be difficult, but now we have three games in the Danish league where we need to get results. Then we take the away game, where we try to do our very, very best.

“The players did everything they could. I can’t blame them for anything. We played against a top, top team who know exactly what to do in every situation.

“I think City came with a very, very professional mindset. They took control of the game from the first second.”

Manchester City resumed their Champions League defence with a comfortable 3-1 win at FC Copenhagen on Tuesday.

Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva netted either side of an unexpected Magnus Mattson equaliser as City dominated a last-16 first leg they could have won far more convincingly.

Pep Guardiola’s side dominated in every aspect at the Danish capital’s famously atmospheric Parken Stadium and Phil Foden completed a deserved success late on.

With close to 80 per cent possession, the holders were hardly troubled and will be confident of wrapping up a place in the quarter-finals when the sides meet again in Manchester in three weeks.

The only real downside for City was the loss of Jack Grealish through injury in the first half.

Despite having almost complete control, one thing City could not do was silence the home fans.

As anticipated, Copenhagen’s raucous following produced an intimidating atmosphere and greeted every City attack with loud whistles and even a siren.

Yet it appeared to have no effect on City, who immediately imposed themselves and should have taken the lead when De Bruyne fluffed a header from a Nathan Ake cross.

Ruben Dias also forced a save from Kamil Grabara and Ake fired the rebound over, although a raised flag suggested neither might have counted.

Copenhagen, their rustiness amid Denmark’s long winter break evident, were struggling to live with City and it came as no surprise when De Bruyne hit his 11th-minute opener.

The Belgian, who has quickly eased back into gear after a long injury lay-off, timed his run onto a Foden pass superbly and finished clinically with a low shot.

City looked hungry for more and Erling Haaland was inches away from meeting a De Bruyne cross before a Silva ball was deflected onto the woodwork by Denis Vavro.

City suffered a blow when Grealish, making his first start in six games, was forced off after 21 minutes soon after a challenge from Diogo Goncalves but his replacement Jeremy Doku added more energy to City’s attack.

Within moments of coming on Doku set up Haaland for what would have been a spectacular goal with a volleyed cross but the Norwegian’s overhead kick flew over.

City looked capable of running up a huge score but remarkably found themselves level when Ederson gifted the hosts an equaliser on 34 minutes.

The goalkeeper passed straight to Mohamed Elyounoussi and, although the former Southampton forward’s shot was blocked, debutant Mattson followed up with a fine finish.

Mattson, a recent signing from NEC Nijmegen, almost added another soon after but blazed over.

The home fans were animated but their excitement was not to last.

Silva restored normal order before the break with a fine flicked finish after De Bruyne got the better of Mattson to pick out the Portuguese.

De Bruyne almost added to the lead early in the second half when he tested Grabara before Haaland headed tamely at the keeper and Foden had an effort deflected wide.

Grabara also pushed away a long-range Doku strike and Haaland was twice denied by the keeper in stoppage time before Foden wrapped up the win after exchanging passes with De Bruyne.

Pep Guardiola has told Erling Haaland to focus more on getting his body language right than scoring goals.

The Manchester City manager admitted to being concerned about the prolific Norwegian’s demeanour since his return to action following a two-month lay-off with a foot injury.

Guardiola feels the striker has been preoccupied with adding to his remarkable goal tally and wants him to relax more.

He thinks Saturday’s victory over Everton was a good example, when Haaland had a quiet first half before netting twice late on to secure a 2-0 success.

Guardiola, speaking in Denmark at a press conference to preview Tuesday’s Champions League last-16 clash with FC Copenhagen, said: “Erling is young, playing in the most difficult position on the pitch surrounded by four or five players with minor space.

“In the first half maybe we didn’t have the special delivery players, like Kevin (De Bruyne) for example, who can find him.

“In that moment he has to be positive. When he scored a goal, he reacted but he doesn’t need to score because he helps us for many things.

“He is defined on goals but it is not just scoring a goal. As much it’s how he is clapping, encouraging his mates and the first intense press. This is what we need from Erling.

“But we cannot forget he has been two months out, which is a lot of time for a guy who is so tall.

“Back to the dynamic is not easy. He’s a huge competitor who wants to score goals. OK, we know that, so relax.

“If we don’t score today, or if he doesn’t score in 10 minutes, it’s OK. In the process he has to try because the team always wins when they overcome bad moments.”

Guardiola did stress this was a minor problem and he has no doubts about the 23-year-old.

“It looks like I am complaining about Erling but it was in general,” the City boss said. “How many games did Erling play and how many goals? His body language is not a problem.

“If he doesn’t score tomorrow, the day after or next week, it’s not a big issue.

“He’s so strong. It comes from nature. He’s coped perfectly because he’s so strong mentally. He scores one goal and wants a second and a third.

“You see his numbers at his age. In the Champions League not even (Lionel) Messi or Cristiano (Ronaldo) had these numbers at his age.”

City are hoping to silence a raucous atmosphere at Parken to take the initiative after the first leg of their tie against Copenhagen.

The Danes have not played competitively for two months due to their winter break but Guardiola expects a stern challenge from a side that finished above Manchester United and Galatasaray in their group.

He said: “I would say they are starving to compete and hungry and have full energy, fresh in legs and mind.

“I don’t know the rhythm but they have had lots of time to prepare for the game. Hopefully we can be in a good level to compete.

“It’s back to business in the competition but huge respect for the opponents. It was not an easy group and they did really well in all the games.”

Pep Guardiola felt his side had come through a tough game after grinding out a 2-0 victory over Everton on Saturday.

Erling Haaland struck twice in the latter stages to secure a hard-fought Premier League success for the champions at the Etihad Stadium.

It was City’s 10th successive triumph in all competitions and Guardiola said the manner of the win would stand them in good stead as they chase a repeat treble.

The City manager said: “I love to win this type of game. The difficulty is there. We knew it, we talked about it.

“Always Everton here at home is really complicated. We’ve lost a lot of points over many years.

“What pleased me the most is something the people cannot see – the body shape, the positivity, the body language.

“In the first half we were complaining. I know a 12.30 (kick-off) is more difficult but our body language was not good. The chemistry between the players, when they lose a ball or something is not going well, has to be better.

“But in the second half it was much better. In general it was well deserved.

“I like to win this type of game – suffering and knowing how difficult everything is – because we learn the lessons for what’s coming.”

With Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne, who have both had lengthy lay-offs this season, now back in tandem and the rest of the squad fully fit, City’s momentum could be ominous for their rivals.

After last season’s achievements, doubts were cast over City’s durability as they stuttered in the autumn but Guardiola never had any concerns.

He said: “With Erling and Kevin we are stronger, that’s obvious, but when a team loses the consistency, we have to be worried with the way they train, behave and run.

“But it (good attitude) was always there. When that happens the team is alive. I was never concerned. Since day one I didn’t have the feeling.

“There are ups and downs, it’s normal, but I still liked what I saw.”

The defeat left Everton in the bottom three and without a league win in almost two months.

Manager Sean Dyche accepted his side had been beaten by a master finisher in Haaland, who broke the deadlock on 71 minutes and then wrapped up victory five minutes from time.

Dyche said: “That’s why he is who he is. He doesn’t have many touches in some games but he scores and that is the key.

“His finish for the first one – I have been speaking to the players recently about this – footballers scoring ‘trendy’ goals – whippers, dippers, clippers.

“He doesn’t think about that. Just score a goal. That’s the trendiest thing you’ll ever do. And he showed that, a good technique. Just smash it and don’t worry about anything else.”

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has dismissed talk of a repeat treble by saying he is “99.99” per cent certain it will not happen.

The champions are favourites to win a fourth Premier League title in succession and are also in strong contention to retain the Champions League and FA Cup.

Winning those trophies in back-to-back seasons would be unprecedented and therefore Guardiola, whose silverware haul in the past year also includes the European Super Cup and Club World Cup, feels it is unlikely.

The Spaniard said at a press conference: “Sextuple, ‘seventuple’? It’s a fairytale. It’s more complicated than that.

“We have 99.99 per cent possibility that we are not going to win the treble because it has never ever ever been done. The chances to do it again are like this (shows tiny gap between thumb and index finger) – minimal.

“If it was easy, another team – (Manchester) United in that time – would have done it again. It’s not easy.

“Everything is so difficult in this business. What we have done in the past is absolutely no guarantee of anything.

“What I like is that we are still there. We are close to the top of the league, we are in the other competitions.

“Hopefully we will arrive in March and April with the same feeling and if we have the same feeling, we will fight for the titles in May. This is the target.”

City have won their last nine games in all competitions and appear to be gathering familiar momentum at the right time.

Yet while the likes of Phil Foden and Julian Alvarez have earned praise for their form, and Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne have returned from injury, Jack Grealish’s levels have dipped.

The England international was one of the key players in last season’s treble success but has not hit the same heights this term and has not started City’s last four games.

His most recent subdued form comes after an unsettling incident in December when his home was burgled, while his fiancee and members of his family were in the property, as he played in a game at Everton.

Guardiola accepts that could have affected him.

He said: “I’m pretty sure (it did affect him). After a few days hopefully he forgot it but I’m pretty sure. I was affected too and I would have been affected too.

“It is not easy what happened with him, his girlfriend and family, so I’m pretty sure (it affected him).

“But he handled it really well. He is an incredible person with incredible humanity.

“Here, with security and people at his disposal, we have tried to help him but it happened. We haven’t spoken lately about that subject so hopefully it is fine.”

Guardiola pointed out Grealish’s lack of action was largely due to the form of other players.

He said: “It’s not a big, big problem – completely the opposite. He is competing with players at a high level. He is making steps to get his best (form). We need everyone and we need Jack.”

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has challenged Real Madrid to make an offer for Erling Haaland if they really want him.

There were reports in Spain last week that Haaland dislikes life in Manchester so much that he wants to leave the club.

Perhaps inevitably, it was suggested Real Madrid were monitoring the prolific Norway striker’s situation.

The suspicion at City is that this could have been an attempt by Madrid-leaning media to unsettle the 23-year-old and edge him towards the Bernabeu Stadium.

Yet Guardiola, who has seen such activity before, is confident it will not work and suggests any interested club should just say so.

Guardiola said: “For one report, for one journalist or one Twitter account, one Instagram account, do you think they are going to change something that is going to happen? It’s not going to happen.

“It’s going to happen when Erling decides to extend the contract or not, when the club decides to extend a contract or not, or when we have potential offers to him or not.

“If someone wants Erling, it’s easy. Call Man City and ask. It’s what we do when we want to sign someone. It’s not more complicated than that.”

If Guardiola has his way, the answer to any enquiry would be a firm no.

Haaland scored 52 goals in a stunning first season at the Etihad Stadium and had already netted 19 this term before being sidelined by a foot injury early in December.

Guardiola said: “What do you think? That we don’t want Erling to stay here for one decade?

“We want him – for a long, long time at this club. For a long time. We are in love with him, we want him.”

Yet Guardiola admits he does not know what the future will bring.

He said: “I don’t have info. He arrived last season and the impact was incredible. The beginning of this season, the numbers were really good too. He’s had two months injured.

“What happens in the future? Honestly, I don’t know. We are happy to have him, hopefully he’s happy to be with us. That is what we know. And the rest? I don’t know.”

Guardiola insists he ignores transfer rumours but concedes having players linked with big clubs can be flattering.

He said: “It’s normal that Real Madrid want the best players, and Barcelona want the best players, or (clubs) in Italy, or PSG want the best players.

“We want the best players and United want the best players, and Liverpool and Arsenal and everyone. It’s normal, it’s not a surprise.

“A link like that is an honour for us. It means that we did a good job, and especially Erling. In his case he made an incredible job.

“Is it true? I don’t know. It’s just to make a little bit of noise. It’s fine. Of course I ignore it. It doesn’t bother me at all.

“As long as the players are focused on what they have to do, the rest is not important.”

Pep Guardiola hopes John Stones can now start to put a run of games together after what has been a frustrating season to date.

The England centre-back, who shone in a hybrid defence-midfield role in Manchester City’s treble-winning campaign last season, has made only 11 appearances this term.

He missed 12 games at the start of the season with a hip problem and then picked up a muscular injury in November that sidelined him for another month.

His return from that setback then proved shortlived as he hurt his ankle at former club Everton in December, not featuring again until last Wednesday’s Premier League victory over Burnley.

Yet after the 29-year-old managed 90 minutes against the Clarets, City manager Guardiola is hopeful he can put his fitness issues behind him.

Guardiola said: “He’s really good. The injury was not muscular, it was the ankle and when the ankle is OK, the risk is minimal, I would say.

“It was good (after Burnley). Still he needs to make a step forward, it’s not the John Stones that we met last season but (it’s) step by step.

“We have had a lot of setbacks this season for many injuries but hopefully he can continue and avoid them.”

Champions City are back in action as they travel to Brentford on Monday.

The Bees did the double over City last season and Guardiola has been impressed by the work manager Thomas Frank has done at the Gtech Community Stadium.

Guardiola said of the Dane: “He’s been unbelievable. The consistency, the club, how they’ve relied on him for many, many years.

“Everyone comes in and knows what exactly what they have to do. When you have a manager for many years everybody knows what they have to do. That helps a lot.

“In the beginning it is more difficult but they did really well. They have incredible strikers up front. Big compliment. I have a lot of admiration for him.”

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