Pep primed for fi­nals count­down

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Kingston Upon Hull, Eng­land

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.”

ANNY LAW­SON / AP

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.