Guardiola warns the margin between City and Liverpool "is nothing"
Manchester City will need over 90 points to retain the Premier League title and fend off Liverpool's threat, estimates manager Pep Guardiola.
Pep Guardiola has braced Manchester City for an assault by Liverpool on their Premier League supremacy. City's lead stands at nine points after 24 matches, although second-placed Liverpool have a game in hand, and the manner of the Reds' 2-0 win over Leicester City on Thursday spoke of their continuing belief.
Meeting between the title contenders
A dip over the Christmas and New Year period cost Liverpool substantial ground in the title race, but they are looking sharp again for Jürgen Klopp, setting up the prospect of a tantalising final few months of the season. City and Liverpool are due to meet at the Etihad on 9 April - a game which could yet be a pivotal moment in the title race.
"If we want to fight to win the Premier League, we will have to win an incredible amount of points against these opponents that we've faced in the last seasons many, many times," City manager Guardiola told a news conference on Friday. "The margin against Liverpool is nothing. We have to win a lot, a lot, a lot of games. We have to get more than 90 [points] - 95, 96 to be champions. I'm pretty sure of that right now."
Reigning champions City have reached 60 points after 24 games, and if they carry on at that rate they are on course to hit 95 points for the season, while winning every game would take them to 102 for the campaign. Liverpool meanwhile can post a maximum of 96 points if they win their 15 remaining fixtures, and Guardiola does not expect the Reds to drop many. The Spanish coach, whose team face Norwich City at Carrow Road on Saturday, spoke about Liverpool's threat amid a broader point on how he expects his City players to perform week-in, week-out.
Nothing decided yet
He says he was raised in a culture at Barcelona, since his time as a youth player, to take nothing for granted, no matter how sunny the outlook might seem. "I was born in Barcelona and I grew up in the academy. They taught me everything and the best way, even there, is [to think] that everything can go wrong," Guardiola told reporters. "We've made an incredible run so far in the Premier League, and now Liverpool is there behind the corner. That shows how difficult our opponent is, how good it is. It's not about the mentality, because these players have showed in the last years they're not scared. [The aim is] to face every single game with optimism and being positive, but knowing that of course we can lose by being bad and drop points. This is not the issue, it is how you behave in the moment when you are losing games."
He recalled a moment in City's midweek win over Brentford when Kevin De Bruyne rushed back to help out John Stones in defence, pointing to that as an example of how to give everything. "You can lose. Of course you're going to lose, nobody wins always," the City boss said. "But it's the way you lose. You can lose in different ways. Many times when we lose, we lose as a great team, and you become a great team with the way you lose, not the way you win, and we have to continue this way."
Guardiola spoke once more about Riyad Mahrez, who has scored in each of his last seven appearances for City across all competitions. The last player to score in more consecutively for the club was Sergio Agüero in the 2013-14 season (eight games). Asked whether Mahrez was in the prime of his City career, Guardiola replied: "No, last season was his best moment. He can still do better this season to reach the level he reached in the last four, five, six months of last season. Last season was outstanding, the way he played and produced."
Pep in numbers
Guardiola has a win rate of 88% against English managers in the Premier League (P66 W58), the highest of any manager to take charge of five or more such games. His four games against Englishman Dean Smith, Norwich's former Aston Villa boss, have all been won by an aggregate score of 13-2. However, Norwich have won seven points from their most recent three Premier League games - just one fewer than they had taken from their previous 12 fixtures (W2 D2 L8).
Smith is looking to become the first Norwich manager to go unbeaten for four Premier League matches since Chris Hughton in February 2013. The visitors have other ideas, with Guardiola's City having won nine and drawn two of their 11 away games in the league since an opening defeat to Tottenham. It is close to perfection, but Guardiola pointed out that is an unattainable goal in football.
"A team will never be perfect," said the former Bayern Munich and Barcelona head coach. "As a human being, we are imperfect. Perfection doesn't exist in sports, especially in football."