Pep sees old Barca charges as Euro favourites

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

AF­TER Manch­ester City con­tin­ued their seem­ingly un­stop­pable Premier League ram­page yes­ter­day, man­ager Pep Guardi­ola was left try­ing to calm the grow­ing hype by sug­gest­ing his old Barcelona charges still re­main Europe’s team to beat.

Even though City were waste­ful and a mite dis­tracted in their 1-0 win at New­cas­tle United, the fact that they still chalked up a record-ex­tend­ing 18th suc­ces­sive Premier League win with some comfort still told of their re­lent­less ex­cel­lence.

So, as Guardi­ola re­flected on a 15-point lead at the top of the ta­ble, it was lit­tle surprise that he was asked after­wards whether City now had to be con­sid­ered favourites for the Cham­pi­ons League as Europe’s mes­meris­ing form side.

“Who does (Lionel) Messi play for?” was Guardi­ola’s re­sponse. “Barcelona,” came the reporter’s an­swer.

“So they’re the favourites,” shrugged the man­ager.

Guardi­ola should know. As the man who over­saw Messi’s flow­er­ing at the Nou Camp dur­ing a tri­umphant reign, he was once so en­rap­tured on the touch­line, he turned to a fan, say­ing: “If it wasn’t for him, I’d be coach­ing in La Se­gunda (the sec­ond di­vi­sion of La Liga).”

Guardi­ola also re­fused to be drawn into a war of words with Jose Mour­inho af­ter the United man­ager at­tempted to pro­voke Guardi­ola on Wed­nes­day by point­ing to their ri­vals’ huge spend­ing power – claim­ing “City buy full­backs for the price of strik­ers” and in­sist­ing that the £300 mil­lion (RM1.65b) he has spent since tak­ing charge at Old Traf­ford 18 months ago as “not enough”.

When asked about the com­ments made by the Por­tuguese, Guardi­ola said: “I’m so de­lighted to be here to speak about what hap­pened on the pitch.

“About what hap­pened with my col­league speak­ing off the pitch in the press con­fer­ence, I’m not the right guy. You want to talk about what hap­pened to­day on the pitch, I will an­swer.”

City re­main on course to win the ti­tle in record time but Guardi­ola will await med­i­cal up­dates on Vin­cent Kom­pany, af­ter the in­jury-prone skip­per limped off with a re­cur­rence of a long-term calf prob­lem.

City face a min­i­mum of eight games in 34 days in a hec­tic start to the New Year, and Guardi­ola added: “Of course we are happy to break records but when we pre­pare for games we don’t speak about them. Un­til now, we have found a way to win.

“I saw the sched­ule in my of­fice the other day and I wanted to es­cape, be­cause it’s ter­ri­ble. The games we are go­ing to play, it’s tough.

“We’ve played all these games in De­cem­ber then in Jan­uary you have the Carabao Cup and FA Cup and then the re­turn of the Cham­pi­ons League in Fe­bru­ary.

“It will be tough but it will also be tough for our op­po­nents.” – Reuters/AFP

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