Mikel Who? Pep Guardiola praises calming influence of new assistant Juanma Lillo ahead of reunion with Arsenal manager and old No 2 Arteta
- Arsenal host Manchester City in the Premier League on Sunday afternoon
- Gunners boss Mikel Arteta was City manager Pep Guardiola’s assistant before
- The Catalan has praised Arteta’s replacement, Juanma Lillo, for his influence
Pep Guardiola has paid tribute to his new assistant Juanma Lillo for making him a calmer manager this season as Manchester City put their remarkable 17-match winning streak up against former No2, Mikel Arteta at Arsenal.
Guardiola turned to his old friend Lillo last summer as he sought a replacement for his long-time deputy, Arteta.
Following City’s Champions League exit against Lyon, there were fears their legendary boss had lost his Mojo but he and the team have bounced back from an indifferent start to currently lead the table by 10 points
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola faces his former assistant Mikel Arteta on Sunday
The Catalan has been delighted by the impact of Arteta’s replacement, Juanma Lillo, at City
City are beginning to run away with the league, sitting 10 points clear in the Premier League
Lillo has played an understated but important role in the revival despite his limited English restricting interaction with some of the City players during matches.
The esteemed coach has managed 18 different clubs in Spain and he and Guardiola became close after the Catalan was impressed in how Lillo’s Oviedo team was set up.
‘It was a dream for us to work together one day and now the dream has come true,’ said Guardiola. ‘His knowledge of the game is overwhelming. He sees things that few people in the world, me included, are able to.
‘He has helped me to be more calm. I am a guy who sometimes expresses my feeling too much but he makes me read situations better.
‘He helps me a lot and I would say with Rod (coach, Rodolfo Borrell) as well, we make a good group. They help me see what happens in training or even games, help me with things I am unable to watch.
Lillo is an experienced coach in Spain, having started his coaching career back in 1981
Guardiola has admitted he needs the right assistant to help him setup his winning teams
‘That is why there are here. I said it before with Mikel and Tito Vilanova (Guardiola’s former No2 at Barelona). I need their advice and support to understand and control my emotions.
‘This is a different year. You have to be more patient and Juanma helps me a lot to be patient. He has told me many times “it will change, everyone is going to lose games.”
The only downside of Lillo’s contribution so far is the language barrier which the perfectionist Pep has noted. ‘ I would love him to be able to speak better English than he speaks to communicate more on the pitch with the players, but maybe he needs time.’
Guardiola’s comments underline how City have moved on from the shock of losing Arteta midway through last season when the ambitious Spaniard chose to be a No1 at Arsenal, winning the FA Cup in his first season but struggling in mid-table in this campaign.
What makes Lillo’s friendship with Guardiola even more striking is that he once got the sack at Almeria when they lost 8-0 to Barcelona.
Guardiola was impressed by Lillo’s management style, despite thrashing his Almeria 8-0
‘If I was training Almeria at that moment and he was training Barcelona, we would have been defeated eight-zero too,’ said Guardiola.
‘The big successful managers can not win the Premier League or La Ligas if they are not surrounded buy a big club and talent. I say all the time, we are lucky.
‘There are other managers in the Championship and lower divisions who are incredibly well prepared with incredible ideas who convince the players, but in the end coaches can’t score goals.
‘That is why when we play in the FA Cup or Carabao Cup, I am committed to do it well because those managers deserve us to be serious and compete against them.
‘Juanma has vast experience. He has worked in Colombia, the first division in Spain, been the assistant-coach of Chile.
Guardiola had to adjust after losing Arteta halfway through the 2019-20 season to Arsenal
‘He knows perfectly, maybe better than me because he fought in teams not as lucky as I had in Barcelona, Bayern Munich and now Man City, that it depends on the quality of the players. Not always what we (managers) can do.’
City’s recent form has made a mockery of those who predicted a tight title race in the early months of the season.
On Wednesday, beaten Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti said it was “impossible” against Guardiola’s side even though they were without Sergio Aguero, Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne only coming off the bench following a hamstring injury.
The Belgian superstar would walk into any team in the world but such is City’s current run, he could be eased gradually back into action, with Guardiola having the luxury of only picking players at their best.
‘We can not forget that Kevin was there for a lot of this this incredible run and we could not have done 100 points, 98 points, in the past without him. But of course it is a challenge (for any player to be picked). The competition is so healthy, it is what I want, what he wants, what we need.
Kevin De Bruyne is aiming to quickly re-establish his place as the first name on the team-sheet
‘With the schedule, 11 months playing every 3 days, it is difficult to maintain physically. That’s why it is so good if someone is out for an injury and sees his mate playing good and winning games, that is the best way to be a competitor.
‘They have to play good to stay in the team because they know when they are not playing good they have no chance to stay in the team. And when they are playing good they will have the chance to play once, twice, third [3 games in a row] for sure.’
De Bruyne was in imperious form when injured against Aston Villa on January 22 but City have still won all eight games since. He returned for the last 10 minutes at Goodison Park and should be involved again at The Emirates this afternoon.
Other players have stepped up in his absence with midfielder Rodri enjoying a purple patch as the team’s midfield anchor and scoring from the penalty spot against Spurs last weekend.
Rodri is a player who has stepped up in De Bruyne’s absence to keep City’s momentum rolling
The Spanish international has thrived in his second season after moving from Atletico Madrid. ‘For sure it is the best football since I came here. I have had one more year of experience, adapted myself better in the games and, of course, I think there is a rise in the level we have achieved as I have never seen that here.
‘Since the lockdown last year, I think the team has made a step forward and this is a result of the work over a long period.’
Rodri, 24, hopes to finish a business management and administration degree this year that he’s been studying in his spare time.
‘It helps me take my brain out of football and do more things in my life. I think it is healthy,’ he adds.
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