Pep primed for finals countdown
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said every game in the second half of the season will be like a cup final for his title hopefuls.
An impressive and hardearned 3-0 win at Hull kept City in touch with leader Chelsea after Antonio Conte’s team beat Bournemouth earlier on Monday.
The Blues opened up a 10-point gap over Guardiola’s team for whom defeat at Hull would have been disastrous.
Guardiola knew the pressure was on following that result, although a Yaya Toure penalty, a tap-in by substitute Kelechi Iheanacho and a Curtis Davies own goal ensured the Spaniard eventually enjoyed his first Boxing Day in English soccer with a comfortable victory.
However, Guardiola is expecting such pressure to be routine for City in the new year, especially with title rivals Chelsea and Liverpool not hampered by the extra burden of European competition.
“Sometimes you play before, sometimes you play later,” said Guardiola.
“But it doesn’t matter whether you are seven points or 10 points behind when one team has won 12 in a row.
“We have one game to finish the first half of the season and then the second starts and it’s like a final for us if we want to be there until the end of the season.
“Liverpool went so close one year because they had one game a week and last year for Leicester it happened the same. This time Chelsea and Liverpool are the ones.
“We have played seven more games than them and important ones like the Champions League. That is why it will be tough, it will be hard but we have to do absolutely everything to be there.
“After that, football is unpredictable. Sometimes you believe something is done and it is not done.
“What we have to do is win every game and play like this last one. We’re going to try and, after that, we will analyze whether it has been enough or not enough. But that’s the goal.”
Guardiola had further good news when he learned England defender John Stones will not be sidelined for long with an injury.
Stones was recalled after being dropped for the last two games, but the 22-year-old lasted only 18 minutes before hurting his knee.
However, Guardiola said he expected the former Everton centerback to recover quickly.
“He had a huge kick on his knee and couldn’t run,” explained Guardiola. “When you look at his knee, it is badly swollen but it is just a kick, not something serious like ligaments.”
Even without Stones, City kept a clean sheet for the second time in nine away league games, a decent feat given Hull’s physical and direct approach.
“Like always,” smiled Guardiola when asked about the no-nonsense style from the Tigers. “Watford plays like this, Arsenal plays like this, with (Olivier) Giroud, West Brom, all teams play direct.
“But I’m not worried about that long ball. I’m worried about the second one, the third one, sometimes the fourth one. That’s the important thing.”
Hull’s hopes of becoming the fourth team in the Premier League’s 25-year history to survive after being last at Christmas look remote.
However, manager Mike Phelan was proud of his team.
“I thought to take on City the way we did was the right thing to do and there was a bit of anguish and frustration from their dugout at times,” Phelan said.
“But that first goal is massive. We tried to have a go after that but it is just a case of can we manage the game better.
“We need to learn from that as we are on the end of another defeat — a harsh defeat because I don’t think it was a 3-0 game.”
Manchester City’s Bacary Sagna beats Hull City's Dieumerci Mbokani to a header during their English Premier League match at KCOM Stadium, Hull, on Monday.