LONDON, United Kingdom, Aug 12 – Pep Guardiola saluted Manchester City’s stars for shaking off their World Cup fatigue as the champions made a flying start to the Premier League campaign with a 2-0 win against Arsenal.
Guardiola’s side featured a host of players who told the City boss they were ready to play at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday despite their draining World Cup duty in Russia.
Several, including England stars Raheem Sterling, Kyle Walker and John Stones, cut short their holidays to get back into training with City.
And, despite just a week of sessions on the practice pitch, City picked up where they left off last term with a confident display that easily put Arsenal to the sword.
Raheem Sterling opened the scoring with a cool finish early in the first half before Bernardo Silva lashed in City’s second after the interval, leaving Guardiola to sing the champions’ praises.
“We played a high level considering the lack of physical condition for many of the players who arrived back late after the World Cup,” he said.
“Many players did a sacrifice, Stones, Walker, we trained for only one week but the spirit is there.
“In general to be at this moment of the season, with the desire to run and run, it was the same last season.
“First game of the season, away at Arsenal with a new manager after 20 years? No-one can deny it is complicated, so to win the way we won is more than pleasing.”
City look as hungry as ever despite their record-breaking success last season, when they won the title with a record 100 points and also lifted the League Cup.
Installed as heavy favourites to finish top again — which would make them the first team to defend the title since Manchester United in 2008-09 — City’s ruthless performance was ominous for their rivals.
And Guardiola twisted the knife by insisting City are still some way from their peak.
Asked how much motivation his players have, Guardiola said: “It is not a question that needs an answer. I can say to the players ‘are you hungry?’ and they say yes boss but I don’t know. They show me on the green stuff (the pitch).
“We are not going to judge what is going to happen after one game but we try to respond, we try to be ourselves.
“The way we won is so important for us, for our confidence, now we move forward. Of course our average level is high, but I have a feeling still we can improve.
“The winter time is coming. Lots of things happen. The best way to defend it is to be calm.
“We spoke about this before the game. they know they can do it. We are a strong team, after that we will see.”
One difference for City this season is the presence of Benjamin Mendy at left-back.
The France international missed most of last season with an injury and Guardiola admitted his return is still a work in progress.
“Mendy is Mendy. Sometime you want to kill him and sometimes you say ‘wow what a player we have’,” he said.
“He has a lot of things to improve. Hopefully we can convince him to be calm and forget the social media!”
It was a chastening introduction to the Premier League for new Arsenal manager Unai Emery, who has replaced Arsene Wenger following the Frenchman’s 22-year reign.
Wenger left Arsenal in a mess after last season’s sixth place finish and Emery acknowledged the gulf in class between City and his team showed how much work he could do.
“We needed more but I am happy with the players, they run and fight,” Emery said.
“Today is the first step. We need to do the process my way. City are working three years with Guardiola, building a team with good players and great stability.
“We finished with the spirit I want. I think we need to improve. This process is normal.
“With more time we will play with this personality.”