Primed to pounce

Pep Guardi­ola says Man City ready to chal­lenge Chelsea

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Manch­ester, Eng­land

Manch­ester City man­ager Pep Guardi­ola said his side will be ready to cap­i­tal­ize if Pre­mier League pace­set­ter Chelsea fal­ters fol­low­ing its 2-1 come­back vic­tory over ti­tle ri­val Arse­nal.

Chelsea has streaked clear at the sum­mit thanks to a run of 11 con­sec­u­tive vic­to­ries.

City trails An­to­nio Conte’s team by seven points, hav­ing climbed to sec­ond place by com­ing from be­hind to beat Arse­nal at Etihad Sta­dium on Sun­day, and Guardi­ola said the leader is in its sights.

Asked if the win, se­cured by sec­ond-half goals from Leroy Sane and Ra­heem Ster­ling, would give City a psy­cho­log­i­cal boost, Guardi­ola nod­ded and replied: “A lot.”

“Seven points is a huge dis­tance and when a team can make 11 vic­to­ries in a row, you just can say con­grat­u­la­tions,” the man­ager said.

“But at least to be there as much as pos­si­ble, and wait­ing if the op­po­nent fails some­times, and wait­ing un­til the last part of the sea­son to be there, to fight for the ti­tle.”

Since Guardi­ola’s ar­rival in Eng­land, fol­low­ing stel­lar spells at Barcelona and Bay­ern Mu­nich, there has been huge in­ter­est in whether his pass­ing prin­ci­ples will pre­vail in the more phys­i­cal Pre­mier League.

The City boss trig­gered his team’s come­back by mov­ing Kevin De Bruyne up front at half­time and switch­ing Ster­ling to the right flank, but he played down the sig­nif­i­cance of the de­ci­sion.

“Be­cause we won, now the trainer is a ge­nius!” said Guardi­ola, who faced crit­i­cism fol­low­ing re­cent losses to Chelsea and Le­ices­ter City.

Guardi­ola said he had apol­o­gized to John Stones af­ter bench­ing the cen­ter­back, a $59.3 mil­lion re­cruit from Ever­ton, for the sec­ond straight game. But he praised Yaya Toure, who has be­come an in­creas­ingly vi­tal cog in City’s mid­field de­spite Guardi­ola ini­tially freez­ing him out.

Asked if Toure’s form might earn the 33-year-old an ex­ten- sion to his con­tract, which ex­pires at the end of the sea­son, Guardi­ola replied: “No an­swer to that ques­tion.

“I know he fin­ishes his con­tract. Now we have time to dis­cuss that. What im­presses me most is his huge qual­ity.

“He looks like a boy. He played awe­some. It is not in terms of when he has the ball, it’s the per­son­al­ity.

“When we are in trou­ble, he goes there, asks for the ball, pass, pass. When Yaya plays at that level, be­cause he is fit and fo­cused, he is an ex­cep­tional, ex­cep­tional player.”

Ger­man winger Sane can­celed out Theo Wal­cott’s fifth­minute opener two min­utes into the sec­ond half, burst­ing onto David Silva’s lofted pass to fire his first City goal.

Sane got the ben­e­fit of the doubt in a tight off­side call and Arse­nal was ag­grieved that an off­side Silva also got away with swish­ing a foot at Ster­ling’s 71st-minute win­ner, when the Spa­niard could have been ruled as in­ter­fer­ing.

Gun­ners boss Arsene Wenger said his side fell to “two off­side goals” and sug- gested match of­fi­cials were un­fairly pro­tected from crit­i­cism, liken­ing it to “lions in the zoo”.

Wenger was also crit­i­cal of the ref­eree fol­low­ing Arse­nal’s 2-1 loss at Ever­ton last week, ar­gu­ing the win­ning goal had re­sulted from an in­cor­rectly awarded cor­ner.

Arse­nal now trails Chelsea by nine points, and Wenger said his team will need to tighten up de­fen­sively be­fore it could even think about chas­ing down the west Lon­don­ers.

“We have to come back next week and win our game (at home to West Bromwich Al­bion),” he said.

“We had a hor­ri­ble week, ab­so­lutely hor­ri­ble, and what is worse, out of two good per­for­mances we get zero points and out of two lead­ing po­si­tions, we lost two games. That of course is very dis­ap­point­ing.

“Be­fore we think about the nine points, we have to come back to be re­al­is­tic. For a while we have not kept a clean sheet (eight league games).

“If you want to play at the top, you have to keep clean sheets.”

CARL RECINE / REUTERS

Manch­ester City man­ager Pep Guardi­ola (right) di­rects his team while Arse­nal boss Arsene Wenger cuts a con­cerned fig­ure dur­ing the English Pre­mier League match at Etihad Sta­dium in Manch­ester on Sun­day. City beat the Gun­ners 2-1.

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