Pep Guardiola says his Manchester City side are “much, much better” than last season, despite being in a much tighter title race.
City romped to the title with 100 points last time out but are now involved in a nip-and-tuck fight with Liverpool, who are one point behind having drawn with Everton on Sunday.
The Blues have already lost four games this season compared to just two in the entirety of the previous campaign, but Guardiola insists that his side have improved when you consider they are still fighting in three competitions, having already won the Carabao Cup.
“In the way we play, we play much, much better,” Guardiola told reporters after Saturday’s 1-0 win at Bournemouth.
He was then asked if that would be the case even if City do not win the title this season, to which he replied: “Yeah. We want the league and we will be disappointed if that does not happen but we cannot forget the contender we face with Liverpool.
“Of course we want to win the Premier League and I feel the players show me every single day they want to win it. But we have played nine or ten more games than Liverpool – that is a lot of minutes in our legs. We play in four competitions and we are still there. That’s why I’m so happy.”
Guardiola was clearly delighted by his side’s victory at Bournemouth, going onto the pitch at the end of the game and hugging all of his players before saluting the away end.
And he insists he is not feeling the pressure of the title race, instead saying his side’s season is a “joy”.
“No,” he replied when asked about the stress of their situation. “It’s nice to be there. We have two titles in our pocket for this season and being there with Liverpool – the best Liverpool ever in terms of points in the Premier League – and especially when you get 100 points you can relax and feel complacent. Being there after what happened last season means a lot.
“We have a home Champions League game where our fans can hopefully support us to make the quarter-finals of another prestigious title, and we are one game from the semi-finals of the FA Cup at Wembley. That is not stress, it is completely the opposite, it is a joy.”
Guardiola did acknowledge that he would rather be in that position than involved in such a close race – this time last year City were 16 points clear of second-placed Manchester United.
“I would prefer to be in last season’s position to be 12 points in front but that is not normal, last season was an exceptional position,” he added. “It is nice being there after what happened last season.
“We could have been 10 points behind when Liverpool played us at home, or could have been seven points after our defeat against Newcastle and today [Saturday] we are top. Of course they play tomorrow [Sunday] but all we can do is be there. Let them feel we are there, just behind them, around the corner. That’s all we can do and if they miss one shot, take it.”
City are currently well on track but their season is likely to hinge upon a crucial period in April, when they face trips to Crystal Palace, Burnley and Manchester United and a home game against Tottenham, as well as potential Champions League quarter-finals and an FA Cup semi.
Guardiola is clearly concerned about the amount of games, and especially possibility of his players picking up injuries during the upcoming international fixtures in the middle of March.
“In April if we go through against Schalke and Swansea it will be as demanding as November and December and January and February. We can rest a little bit in the international break but the most important ones will go away with their national teams.
“My big concern is having players for after the international break because it will be a pity, it will be so sad after playing with this intensity for seven or eight months if they come back injured from the international break. That will be tough for us but hopefully they come back well.”