Guardiola fears Manchester City players ‘might fall down’ in frantic title finale

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Pep Guardiola believes Manchester City have to be perfect and win their last six games to claim a record fourth consecutive title despite the manager’s concerns that his players “might fall down” at any moment due to fatigue.

City travel to Brighton on Thursday four behind Arsenal, with two games in hand. On Saturday Guardiola’s side reached a second consecutive FA Cup final, beating Chelsea 1-0 to keep City on course to win a double-double. But afterwards, Guardiola complained about scheduling in the wake of Wednesday’s 4-3 penalty shootout loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-final.

Arsenal have since beaten Wolves and Chelsea to return to the top of the Premier League while Liverpool went second on Sunday, a point ahead of the champions, after beating Fulham, before losing to Everton on Wednesday night. Guardiola was asked if City have to be perfect to retain the title.

“Yeah, absolutely. [Liverpool, Arsenal] have given us a chance by losing their games [against Crystal Palace and Aston Villa, respectively] but we knew what we had to do two weeks ago – win the games to have a chance in our hands to take the title. Nothing has changed from what we should do before.”

After beating Chelsea, Guardiola joked that his players would be “in the fridge” on Sunday and Monday to rest before facing Brighton. “We will be ready. It was a tough calendar emotionally, yesterday [in training] was not perfect but hopefully they can be good – tomorrow [Thursday] we fly to Brighton,” he said. “We played a lot of games. Madrid was really intense for many things, we were out of the Champions League having done really well and we were tired.

“Not just in the legs, more they were tired [in the head]. These guys have three weeks off, one month [in the summer], not much rest to recover. People say: ‘Ah, I complain.’ But I defend my players, I know what I’m talking about, much better than the people outside.

“Science says you need a certain time to recover, not just physically – mentally as well. And for many years we don’t give them that but still we are there [competing]. That’s why I say I’m really impressed but all the time I’m thinking: ‘They will fall down.’

“This time [I thought] it would not be possible and still they make it possible. That’s why when I reflect on my period here I will always admire this type of player for many years still finding a way to still be in [contention]. And this is unbelievable.”

Guardiola faced down criticism of City for taking players on demanding pre-season tours in distant parts of the world. “We have to do it to pay the salaries of the players and the coach,” he said. “To make better facilities, to know the fans around the world, we have to find the resources. I would love to not go to another continent, have one more week and train here, but you have to understand the clubs, you have to be sustainable.

“When I came here seven or eight years ago, not many people followed us. Now we have won a lot and we have a lot more followers. You have to adapt but that’s not the reason the schedule is tight – I’m sorry but it is not.”

Erling Haaland remains injured and is not available for his side’s trip to the Amex Stadium. “It’s not a big issue,” said Guardiola of City’s leading scorer who has a muscle problem. The 20-goal striker could come back into contention for Sunday’s match against Nottingham Forest, with City boosted by Phil Foden and John Stones getting the green light after their own fitness concerns.


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