Guardi­ola pulls back from Mane ‘div­ing’ claim

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Champions League - By James Ducker in Mi­lan

Manch­ester City can qual­ify for the Cham­pi­ons League knock­out stages with two games to spare should they beat Ata­lanta this evening but it was easy to over­look that here given the at­ten­tion Sun­day’s trip to An­field is draw­ing.

Pep Guardi­ola had put the cat among the pi­geons over the week­end when he sug­gested Sa­dio Mane was guilty of div­ing, an ac­cu­sa­tion that drew a with­er­ing re­tort from Jur­gen Klopp, his Liver­pool coun­ter­part, who took a thinly veiled dig at City’s “tac­ti­cal foul­ing” and im­plied the Cata­lan was be­com­ing ob­sessed with the Mersey­side club.

Guardi­ola opted against fur­ther in­flam­ing ten­sions yes­ter­day by row­ing back on his claims, in­sist­ing it was “far away from my in­ten­tion” to in­fer Mane was a diver, but it stopped short of be­ing a full-scale climb­down.

Sure, Guardi­ola sought to clar­ify his com­ments about Mane – who had been booked for sim­u­la­tion be­fore go­ing on to score a 94th-minute win­ner in Liver­pool’s 2-1 win at As­ton Villa on Satur­day.

He also stressed his ad­mi­ra­tion for Liver­pool’s ca­pac­ity to score so many late goals, even say­ing he had told his chil­dren it had noth­ing to do with luck. But Guardi­ola’s claims that he “didn’t lis­ten to what [Klopp] said” did not quite stack up given that there was a pointed re­peat of the phrase the Liver­pool man­ager

had used about not want­ing to “put oil on the fire” – only to pro­ceed to do so.

“I didn’t lis­ten to what he said so I don’t know,” Guardi­ola said, be­fore adding when the sub­ject of tac­ti­cal foul­ing was raised: “No com­ment on that. I don’t put oil in the fire.”

Be­fore then, there had been what Guardi­ola de­scribed as an at­tempt to “clar­ify ev­ery­thing for Jur­gen”. The dam­age, though, may al­ready have been done, and it is hard to be­lieve there will be a con­vivial mood at An­field as City set about try­ing to halve Liver­pool’s six-point lead at the top of the Pre­mier League.

“My son and my daugh­ter, all the time when they [Liver­pool] win in the last min­utes, ask me how lucky, how lucky they are,” Guardi­ola said. “I say, ‘It’s not lucky’. What Liver­pool has done last seatimes

son and this sea­son many, many times is be­cause they’ve this in­cred­i­ble qual­ity and this in­cred­i­ble tal­ent to fight un­til the end. That’s why I said to my play­ers – not just my son and my daugh­ter – that it is not lucky. If it hap­pens once or twice in a life then, yes, but this many – maybe 10 or 12 or 13 times? In the 94th minute like it was [in their win] against Le­ices­ter, it was a penalty, it was wow.

“Far away from my in­ten­tion was to say Sa­dio is this type of player be­cause I ad­mire him a lot. For Jur­gen, it [the Le­ices­ter de­ci­sion] is a penalty, for the ref­eree it was a penalty, for the VAR it was a penalty. I was the wrong guy – or maybe not, I don’t know. “So it was a praise for Liver­pool, not just about one ac­tion. To say it’s lucky again? No. It hap­pens many

at An­field and away [from home] be­cause they push and push.

“That’s why it’s nice to try to com­pete with them. Hope­fully, I can clar­ify ev­ery­thing for Jur­gen.”

De­spite the im­por­tance of Sun­day’s game, Guardi­ola has vowed to field a strong side against Ata­lanta as City try to wrap up qual­i­fi­ca­tion early at the San Siro, where the Ital­ians play in the Cham­pi­ons League.

Praise: Pep Guardi­ola ad­mit­ted some ad­mi­ra­tion for Liver­pool

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