Pep Guardiola reckons it suits Manchester City to go under the radar – while all the title talk is about Liverpool and Manchester United.
Arch rivals Liverpool and United meet at Anfield on Sunday in the most eagerly-awaited game of the season, the first time in more than a decade they have fought together for the title.
Against that backdrop, City’s quiet progress has gone largely unheralded, despite Guardiola’s side having embarked on a 13-game unbeaten run in all competitions, with six wins on the trot.
After a difficult start to the season, City are starting to find their best form. A win against Brighton will put them in striking distance of United and Liverpool with a game in hand.
Asked if it suited City to be under the radar, Guardiola said: “We didn’t play well in the beginning to deserve to be up there.
“So, in the end, the people who analyse the games say we’re not candidates and others are.
“When we dropped points to West Brom at home and West Ham away, the public opinion said we didn’t deserve to be contenders.
“We tried to say to the players ‘be calm’, because this is a strange situation and the most intelligent thing I can say is [the focus is all on] Brighton. After that I can see what happens.
“What we want is to stay in the competitions.
“We’re in one final, in the next round of the FA Cup and Champions League, so hopefully we can arrive at the last few games and try to fight for the title.”
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Guardiola has City’s improved form down to a return to the slick passing style for which he made his name with Barcelona.
“The only difference now is that we run less,” he explained. “We were running too much.Without the ball you have to run, but with the ball you stay more in position and let the ball run, not you. That’s improved in these games.
“On day one we lost it a bit this season – my fault. The message was not clear, but we came back with the principles.
“In particular, the players needed time to get back to their best condition after no pre-season.
“After good results and performances, it’s normal people visualise they can do it again in the way we did it in the past.”
City will have to take on Brighton without record goalscorer Sergio Aguero, whose long-awaited return from injury is on hold while he isolates after coming into contact with a positive Covid-19 case.
Guardiola remains confident Aguero, who has not started a game since October and is out of contract this summer, will get back to his best once he is cleared to return.
“Hopefully he will get back,” said Guardiola. “I wish. he was in a good mood, but is now isolating, so of course he’ll lose training sessions.
“He’s a guy who needs training to have a better condition in his knee. The important news is that the last 10 or 15 days, before isolation, he was perfect.
“He reacted good and this is the best news. The best part of the sesason is coming up and hopefully we can have him for that. We’re only in January.”
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