Pep Guardiola’s pre-match press conference on Friday was short and snappy, so much so that the opening section was over and done with inside five minutes.
Speaking to the media ahead of Manchester City’s Premier League clash with Watford on Saturday, Guardiola was calm and to-the-point, if not quite as chirpy as he has been over the past few weeks. Light-heartedness and sarcasm seemed to be Guardiola’s antidote for the high-pressure and stress-inducing 11-day period that saw City face Liverpool and Atletico Madrid twice each across three different competitions.
City won only one of those games and suffered FA Cup semi-final elimination for the third year running, but they still managed to maintain their lead at the top of the Premier League table and progress to the semi-finals of the Champions League.
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Guardiola was largely happy with how his team performed in those games — bar a calamitous first-half against Liverpool at Wembley — given the mental and physical demands of those fixtures and the quality of the opposition.
Now that City have navigated that daunting mini-schedule, it’s time for the real home stretch. With six league games remaining and Liverpool in seemingly invincible form, Guardiola has openly admitted that his side cannot afford to drop any points. With everything on the line and barely 72 hours between each game, there is no longer time for messing and joking around. But Guardiola wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I love it,” said the City boss when asked this pivotal stage of the campaign. “Fight for knockout stages, every game is important. It means we have done many good things.
“We can’t drop points but they [Liverpool] can’t either. The players know it, we were in this position before. We play a final versus Brighton to be able to play another one. If we win we have a chance to play another. Try to recover injured players, be fresh in the mind. When we finish tomorrow, another [game] in three days in the Champions League. Then Leeds. Be fresh, relax, ready for the moment of the game.”
Two of City’s next three league games kick-off after Liverpool have already played, meaning the pressure — as was the case on Wednesday when the match began with Liverpool top — could really be on. But even that isn’t bothering Guardiola too much.
“We spoke about that. Forget about it. It’s Liverpool,” Guardiola said. “They are going to win all the games. We have to feel it. We are going to do everything we have in our bodies and our minds, our private lives, to do every single game the best.
“Of course we enjoy it, prefer to be in this position than don’t have a chance to make back to back titles. After the game, remains six games, already qualified for the Champions League, big success. Now we target the Premier League .”
Guardiola rarely beats around the bush when speaking to journalists, but the shift from the joviality of last week, to the seriousness of this, suggests that now Guardiola is fully locked in. If his players are too, then City should be confident of holding off Liverpool’s assault to win another Premier League title.