Tuesday 17 September 2019

Liverpool pushing Pep's rampant City to hit Barca levels of brilliance

Declan Rice gets his foot in to stop the progress of Leroy Sane during Manchester City’s victory against West Ham. Photo: PA
Declan Rice gets his foot in to stop the progress of Leroy Sane during Manchester City’s victory against West Ham. Photo: PA

Sam Dean

A reunion with Manuel Pellegrini provided Pep Guardiola with a chance to reminisce about his second season in charge of Barcelona, when he pipped Pellegrini's Real Madrid to the Spanish league title by three points.

It is clearly a happy memory for the Manchester City manager - "I remember perfectly that season," he said - and it is an experience that may become increasingly relevant as this campaign, in a different country but with similar challenges, reaches its busiest months.

Barcelona's final tally in 2009-10 was 99 points, the highest they achieved under Guardiola. They were pushed and inspired to reach that total by the excellence of Pellegrini's Madrid, whose 96 points was the most they had ever amassed in La Liga.

"Madrid were playing incredibly good," said Guardiola after his City side thrashed Pellegrini's West Ham 4-0 on Saturday.

Dropped

"That is why it was so nice. We did that 99 points when the year before we won the treble with Barcelona. That's why maintaining that level, 99 points, it was good. We did it with someone from behind pushing us. We knew that if we dropped points, Madrid would win the title."

Now, Guardiola's City have that same feeling. They keep winning with ease, as they did again at the London Stadium, but they cannot shake the chasing pack.

Liverpool are just two points behind and at the current rate are set to win 96 points this season. City, meanwhile, are on course to win the league with 102 points, two more than they achieved last year.

It is an unprecedented level of dominance, and it reminds Guardiola of the relationship in tennis between three of the all-time greats, who were driven to greater heights by the relentless brilliance of the competition.

"It is similar with Nadal, Federer and Djokovic," Guardiola said. "They put one better than the other because they know they needed to.

"They (my players) know how strong Liverpool are. And they know 100 points (may be needed) because if not, Liverpool is going to win the league. It is the same with Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal as well.

"To compete we need good opponents close, and this season we have it here and in Europe."

This is how Guardiola intends to keep his players motivated. If there is even the slightest drop in intensity, he will be telling them, then they will be punished. This is why he was so reluctant to praise his squad for this dismantling of West Ham, instead saying they were fortunate to have won the game so comfortably.

"We have a duty to analyse how was the game, the good things we did and the other things we have to improve," Guardiola said.

"If you don't, if you say, 'OK, 0-4, everything is perfect', then around the corner comes defeat."

It will help Guardiola's cause this season to have squad players such as Fabian Delph. With Benjamin Mendy ruled out for months with a knee injury, Delph will be needed again at left-back. So it was at the London Stadium, when Delph impressed in defence a week after starring in England's midfield.

"He is an important player for us," Guardiola said. "Last season, he helped us a lot playing a different position when Mendy was injured, and he did it again well."

How Pellegrini, who was so disgusted by the three goals his side conceded in the first-half, must wish for a player as dependable as Delph in his back line.

"It does not matter if you are playing against Manchester City. If you mark in the way we did, you can play against a second division team, and they will score the goal," he said.

"They are not beautiful plays from Manchester City that they scored. Everyone scores those goals if you give them much (space)."

Pellegrini was at least pleased with the response of his players to those goals, saying: "I think that we were never intimidated by Manchester City, and we have the personality to play, including when you are losing 3-0, which is very difficult against this team." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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