Manchester City embark on their final Premier League game before jetting off to Saudi Arabia for the semi-final, and potentially final, of the FIFA Club World Cup.
Crystal Palace are the visitors this weekend, as Roy Hodgson’s side look to inflict one of the shocks of the season by taking point from the Etihad Stadium amidst a horrid injury crisis at Selhurst Park.
Manchester City have rebuilt their confidence over the last two games, after victories against Luton Town and Crvena zvezda away from home put the Champions back on track after four games without a win in the Premier League.
It was a night of firsts on Wednesday after Micah Hamilton, Oscar Bobb, and Kalvin Phillips all recorded their first ever goals for last season’s Treble winners, with Pep Guardiola’s side securing a 2-3 win on the road to make it six wins from six in the UEFA Champions League group stage.
Ahead of Monday’s all-important UEFA Champions League last-16 draw, and their flight to the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah for the FIFA Club World Cup, Pep Guardiola has focussed his attentions on Premier League match action.
The Boss addressed the media at their east Manchester training base to cover a multitude of topics in part two of a wide-ranging press conference, discussing the upcoming January transfer window, Kevin De Bruyne’s seat on the plane to the Middle-east, and potential plans for a trip away in the coming weeks.
Prior to Saturday afternoon’s meeting at the Etihad Stadium, here is every word from part two of Pep Guardiola’s pre-match press conference with the media at the City Football Academy on Friday afternoon.
On whether Crystal Palace is more important because of the pause in Premier League action for the FIFA Club World Cup
“It’s important anyway. We cannot play (in the Premier League) because we go to the World Cup. But it is what it is, it’s not a problem. We’re going to play 38 games, for sure, by the end of the Premier League.”
On January transfer window activity
“I don’t think about that for one second. Txiki (Begiristain) is in this role for this. We talk, but now we have a lot of games, and many, many important ones and I’m focussed on that.”
On whether there are any warm weather training plans for January
“Maybe we go to Abu Dhabi to make a camp there all together, like it happened in the past when we had time. But I don’t know, maybe we play one game, the game we’re going to play against… when we are in Saudi Arabia, maybe we play that game against Brentford, so… But the Premier League didn’t announce, or the broadcaster didn’t announce so I don’t know right now.”
On whether Arsenal’s Premier League title race defeat to Manchester City now makes them more dangerous
“I don’t know. You have to ask that to Mikel (Arteta), so I don’t know. They are one of them (favourites for the title), yeah. Hopefully we can be there too, but they are, absolutely.”
On whether there is a possibility Erling Haaland doesn’t travel to Saudi Arabia
“No, I think everyone is going to travel. Even Kevin (De Bruyne) is going to travel with us. Everyone is going to travel, I think so. It’s a final, a competition we’ve never won, so I think everybody will be there and I think everyone is going to travel.”
On the Manchester City players being desperate to win the Club World Cup
“I want the players to not be desperate to win it. It’s just to be calm to play two games; win the first one to deserve the credit, or deserve to play the final. And if we don’t win it, we’re hopefully going to win it after the next Champions League in the future, we’ll be back.
“So it’s just simple; two football games, especially the first one that allows you to play the final, otherwise you play for third or fourth position, and do what we have to do. That’s the best way. We learned about it in the Champions League in the past.
“Life, you cannot play for something like, ‘Oh never again it’s going to happen!’ Why not? It can happen in the future, just play the games as best as you can and that’s all. But of course, the motivation and the feeling that we’ve never won that, it’s important. And always we talk; to win helps to win, and a win against Crystal Palace will help us, by far, to approach the game better.”
On whether that is in part the motivation for Crystal Palace
“No, no I don’t think so because this is my job. I will warn them, or I will let them know how tricky… Always it has been! I have the feeling with Roy (Hodgson), with Patrick Vieira, Crystal Palace at home always has been (difficult).
“With a slow rhythm, everyone has to be involved to play quick, but at the same time be patient, be careful in transitions, especially the fouls and set-pieces, they play direct, they are really good on the second balls, the physicality is amazing. Always we struggle. At Selhurst Park it’s normal, but even at Selhurst Park we perform better than at the Etihad.
“It should not be like that, I don’t know why, but that happened in the past, so we lost a lot of points against them here; it’s because what they do, they do really well. The structure defensively in a 4-4-2 or a 4-1-4-1, how they close inside, how they make the backwards, how every movement they do the other mate adjusts that movement. They did it really, really well. So that’s why always we struggle!”
On what Oscar Bobb lacks to be really challenging for a starting position in the most important games
“It’s a question of time. People today expect you have to do everything in two days, so it’s a question of time, be patient. So we know exactly what we have to do with Oscar. He has to perform in a way he performs, and after become better, and if he is patient, he will have his time.
“And as much as he plays the way he’s played, much chances he will have. But today, even Phil (Foden) is a reality, and Rico (Lewis) is a reality but didn’t play when he arrived every single game all the time. So it’s a question of time.”
On what is the toughest part of going all the way into the Manchester City first-team starting XI from the Academy
“Training every day good, playing the minutes that you have good, and as I said, be patient! In the top clubs, you cannot – at 18, 19 years old – and immediately you play all the games. That never happened in any club in the world. So, calm.
“So every experience, and he said okay there are actions and movements against Red Star (Belgrade) they didn’t do well, and he lost a lot of balls, not dropping in the perfect way that he should have dropped, and it’s a question of improving on that, improving on that, but the important thing is his intensity, his one-against-one, even his finishing is really, really good.
“The most important thing for Oscar is that his mates see him like they can rely on him. He’s a player who can play as well without a problem, and that is a big achievement that a young player can have when you arrive in teams and clubs like that. ‘Oh, this guy can play with us without a problem!’ He has that. That is the best. So, after, be patient, it’s a question of time!”
On whether he has seen that the Manchester City players have relied on him all season, or whether that is something that has happened now
“It’s the same question. You asked me first time the same question. So it’s here, it’s playing with us. Last season he played in the Academy, he didn’t train with us, and the first now is training with us, and do it, and there are some players we give this opportunity and didn’t accept it! It’s okay…
“Now, you start in the academy, we’re going to start to play in the first-team, and they said, ‘No, because I’m not going to play’. Ok, go! Another one arrives, stays one year, and in the second year say, ‘I don’t want to play’. Ok, go! He says, ‘No I’ll stay here, one more year, one more year, I want to learn, and learn’, and after that it depends on what happens, and give opportunities.
“But it depends on them as well, because it’s a big competition, because the team or the club always buys good players in positions, not just for Oscar Bobb but for every player. And they have to prove it, and prove it, and prove it! They have to compete with themselves, to prove that they deserve to play more minutes!”
On whether there are any plans to bring in more players in January
“No. Right now, I don’t have anything in my mind. It depends on if they leave, or don’t leave. I don’t know. Some players stay, or some players leave, it depends on the amount in the squad, it depends on the young players we rely on them or not for some moments, we will see.”
On whether Kalvin Phillips is someone he would want to replace if he were to leave
“Kalvin is a player with us, I don’t want to anticipate absolutely anything. Everybody knows the situation he has, and it depends on what happens, we will talk. We will talk about how is the market in January, it’s not easy, and that’s why maybe if we decide… I don’t know! Still we have incredible things to play for, and after we’ll decide.”
On the ‘bought everything’ jibes and just how hard it is to win at Manchester City
“We believe it’s exceptional. I think the teams don’t believe it’s easy. The teams don’t believe it’s easy otherwise they would’ve done it, and they have not done it. We have done it. Of course, it’s really, really complicated. But at the same time, I like the feeling or I have the feeling that going to Luton Town is extremely complicated. And Liverpool was tough, against Arsenal was tough, just to put two examples, and everyone.
“The margin for teams to win there, like we won, 0-½, 0-1, draws. And I want, again to come back, me first, and the players the feeling that, ‘Wow’, to win there, sweating, I like that! The feeling that it is difficult, it will be tomorrow (against Crystal Palace), because always our success came from that.
“Don’t take it for granted, don’t take it for what the people say, or the other one’s opinion that it’s easy to win because we won in the past. And to realise that, you have to lose games, you have to be in a problem, four games without winning in the Premier League. So what’s happening?! That is necessary, it’s really, really necessary, and we have to continue.
“Now we won two games in a row, and now we need another one, and another one, and try to have that feeling that we’ll win maybe another one, and maybe another one, and still thinking that it’s really difficult, because it is. Because it won’t be easy, as I said, another team would’ve done it, and they didn’t do it, we do it.
“We do it because we felt in every game, and we approached in every game thinking Luton can beat us, and we felt before the game that Luton can beat us, for sure. And the reaction is what made me proud, and I liked it. Even when we were not winning, it was not because we are not fighting, we are not running, or we are not doing what we have to do. No I didn’t have that feeling.
“But sometimes you need this extra, you have to feel it by not winning games, no words help, no warnings help, it’s just to feel, ‘Oh my god, we are not winning games, what happened?!’ And after you make an extra.”
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“Yeah but one is in a short period of time. In the last 12 games we lost one. You see it in this perspective and you say, ‘It’s not bad in 12 games just one in all competitions’. It’s quite decent. But yeah we are used to winning a lot of games and we didn’t win in four, and that’s why.
“But in a short period it can seem it, but it’s different when you have a bad season, bad season, and a bad season you don’t win, and come back the other one, of course it helps. At the same time you say, sometimes it’s better you don’t win one season, because in the other one you’ll be better.
“Yeah but sometimes when you win, win, win, you know exactly what you have to do, you have the smell, you have the feeling, we know exactly what we have to do, how you have to behave. It also helps. Winning titles can lead to the tendency to believe something you are not, and you go down.
“And the other point, I have the feeling that winning helps to say I know exactly what we have to do, how difficult it was, because they know how difficult it was to win all the titles, and they know exactly what are the standards we demand from ourselves to still stay there because the teams here in this country are getting better!”
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