Primed to pounce
Pep Guardiola says Man City ready to challenge Chelsea
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.”
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.