No let-up from Manchester City and no sympathy for his players from Pep Guardiola. Progress in the FA Cup means another game to shoehorn into an already bulging fixture list, but the City boss has no plans to give his players a break any time soon.
On the contrary, the message from Guardiola is quite clear: you can rest when you have retired. While Premier League title rivals Liverpool were sunning themselves in Dubai last week, City’s travels took them to Huddersfield Town and Burton Albion. Tuesday’s trip to Newcastle means they will have played four games by the time Liverpool return to action.
It doesn’t get any easier, either. Reaching the Carabao Cup final has forced City to reluctantly accept their league game at Everton being rearranged for a week on Wednesday in between crucial home fixtures against Arsenal and Chelsea. The Champions League resumes next month. Guardiola maintains that winning the Quadruple is ‘fantasy’ but that doesn’t mean he isn’t going to try. Excuses? Not likely.
‘Sometimes I tell the players it’s a privilege,’ he said. ‘If they believe it’s a handicap, they are making a big mistake. When you are 35 years old you can have long, long holidays, no problem. You will be retired and after that take one year for holidays. But at the moment, it’s a privilege. Take it. Enjoy it. Next one, win again. Whatever competition, it doesn’t matter. Friendly game, win again, play good, prepare well. That is the only way. Then you work for the next season.
‘I cannot give them days off. This is the only way if you have four competitions. You have games every three days. No rest, mentally and physically. We need them. When one player plays 20 minutes, I want the best 20 minutes they can play . . . or if they play five minutes, I want the best five minutes they can play. Because we want to get to the late stages, and maybe this will make the difference. Maybe in those five minutes they can help to win something, and that is what I need.’
It is, Guardiola insists, the only way he can hope to emulate the kind of success he enjoyed at Barcelona and Bayern Munich. ‘It’s important that in January we are there. In the big clubs, that is a big difference. Who are the best clubs in the last decade? Juventus, Bayern Munich, Barcelona.
‘Why? Because every season they win the league, every season they win the cups, every season they are there because they are the best. It doesn’t matter what happened before, they go again and again. So Premier League until the end, Carabao Cup final, FA Cup today and win the game, prepare against Schalke (City’s next Champions League opponents.)’
Guardiola’s relentless approach is rubbing off on his team judging by their dismantling of Burnley. This was a repeat of the 5-0 league win at the Etihad in October and no less convincing. The champions made eight changes but that just gave those who started a chance to shine. None more so than Kevin De Bruyne who gave his best display of an injury-interrupted season, scoring with an excellent shot and seeing a cross turned into his own net by Kevin Long. Gabriel Jesus, Bernardo Silva and Sergio Aguero, from the penalty spot, got the others to leave Sean Dyche more convinced than Guardiola that City can complete a clean sweep of trophies.
‘Who is going to stop them winning everything if they’re in that mood?’ said the Burnley manager, who made no secret of the fact that the Premier League remains his priority ahead of tomorrow night’s return to Manchester at Old Trafford. They have elite players and are so clinical. It’s very difficult when teams like this play the way they do.’
City have now scored 29 goals without reply since conceding to Liverpool on January 3. ‘When we score the first, we want to score more and more and more,’ said Gabriel Jesus, scorer of eight of those goals. ‘It’s amazing.’
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