MANCHESTER, United Kingdom, Feb 8 – Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola does not believe Liverpool’s recent stumbles in the title race have been the result of mounting pressure applied by his side.
City leapfrogged Jurgen Klopp’s men to the top of the table on goal difference by winning at Everton on Wednesday, just a week after Liverpool blew the chance to move seven points clear.
Liverpool still have a game in hand with both sides locked on 62 points, but back-to-back draws against Leicester and West Ham have allowed City right back into the race.
City are at home to Chelsea on Sunday in a match Guardiola described as “a final”. They could kick-off back in second place as Liverpool host Bournemouth on Saturday.
“Tomorrow they play before us, I think things are going to change. The pressure,” said Guardiola.
“Liverpool are exceptional, I don’t have the feeling, Klopp, Virgil van Dijk feel the pressure, (Roberto) Firmino, (Mohamed) Salah, (Sadio) Mane.
“I feel they play good and try to win the games, I think they’ll be there till the end and we have to be there to win our games.”
Guardiola will have the luxury of recalling Kevin de Bruyne against his old side on Sunday after leaving the Belgian on the bench at Goodison Park in midweek.
De Bruyne came on in the final stages to set up Gabriel Jesus’s second goal in a 2-0 City win, but Guardiola is wary of overplaying his side’s player of the year last season after two long injury layoffs this season with knee problems.
– ‘Be careful’ –
“There are times when team-mates are in better condition, in football what you have done in the past – you have to do it again in future,” said Guardiola.
“We try to control the players, he played the last two. At Everton (on Wednesday), a few minutes, I want him to play as much as possible.
“He went out for five minutes and he was incredible. I want him to sustain that for a long time. When you’re out a long time, I don’t want him playing game, game, game.”
Aymeric Laporte got City’s opener against Everton, but the French centre-back has had to deputise at left-back in recent matches because of Benjamin Mendy’s continued absence with a knee injury.
Mendy has played just 27 minutes of football since November 11 and Guardiola conceded that it could yet be some time before the French World Cup winner is fully match-fit.
“He’s injured, it’s not easy, meniscus,” said Guardiola. “He needs to re-adapt, it’s not that if you start training in two days you are fit, he has to handle the effort we are putting on him – he has to be careful.”
A social media post from Mendy suggesting he was in Hong Kong even drew an expletive when Guardiola was asked about his whereabouts.
However, Mendy later confirmed he was in fact in Barcelona, which the club were aware of, to receive treatment on his injury.