Guardiola keeps focus on Premier League as Real Madrid looms
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is ignoring the widely held narrative that his team has pretty much wrapped up another Premier League title and can now start focusing on winning the Champions League for the first time.
For Guardiola, one of his biggest challenges now is to keep his players in the present following City's 4-1 win over Arsenal on Wednesday.
Nothing, he said Friday, has been decided.
“The reality is, we are behind,” Guardiola said. “If the championship finished today, they are champions.”
City might be in second place and two points behind Arsenal, but the defending champions are in charge of the title race after outplaying the long-time leaders at Etihad Stadium. City has two games in hand — against West Ham and Brighton next month — and can move into first place, albeit possibly for only a couple of days, by winning at Fulham on Sunday.
Arsenal next plays against Chelsea on Tuesday and will be seeking its first win in five games after a dip in results right at the wrong time.
Listen to most soccer fans and scroll through social media, and you'd be forgiven for thinking the title race is already over.
“It's normal,” Guardiola said, "that is the tendency — after what we have done in the past, Arsenal not being champions for a long time, we being undefeated in 15 games, seven in the Premier League.
“But I said to the players after Arsenal, what happened to Arsenal in the last games — three draws and one defeat — can happen to us. They say it's impossible. No, my friend, it can be possible. You can lose games and drop points in one week. If we are aware of that, it will be easier for us to not drop points.”
For that reason, Guardiola has no intention of even starting to think about the two-legged meeting with Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinals as City seeks the one big title to elude the club.
The first leg is in Madrid on May 9, before which City plays three times in the Premier League — a competition Guardiola has previously said is his priority.
Now, as City bids for a Premier League-Champions League-FA Cup treble to match Manchester United's achievement from 1999, Guardiola is treating every game the same.
“When you are 10-15 points behind the leader, then maybe you prioritize the Champions League but we haven't got the time to prioritize anything,” he said. "The Premier League is so nice, so attractive. Being the champion is right now a similar level than you can tell me about the Champions League.
“The people say, ‘Why? Because you don't have it (the Champions League).’ But the Premier League is the Premier League. It's 11 months, it's every week, every week. My attention is Fulham, then West Ham and then it will be Leeds, 100%. After Leeds, I have enough time — not much because it is Saturday-Tuesday — but of course my (coaching) team will help me a bit to prepare for Madrid.”
Guardiola said defender Nathan Ake is City's only absentee for the Fulham game but that the Netherlands international is making good progress as he recovers from a hamstring injury.
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Steve Douglas, The Associated Press