Pep Guardiola has admitted concerns about Manchester City’s defense ahead of the World Cup break and the manager has warned they cannot lose any more ground to Arsenal ahead of their “terrible” January schedule.
City lost 2-1 against Brentford at the Etihad Stadium on November 12 in their last Premier League game before the World Cup and, before Wednesday’s game in Leeds, Guardiola admitted that his team “could not control” Ivan Toney, scorer of both goals for the visitors last month. Next Arsenal’s victory against West Ham On Boxing Day, Mikel Arteta’s side have a seven-point lead at the top of the table over second-placed Newcastle, but City can regain that spot and cut the lead to five points if they beat Leeds.
Guardiola said: “Against Brentford, when [have to] play 10 ball against Toney – it’s hard to win the game – we can’t control the long balls, we can’t control the transitions and we were completely [in trouble].
“I would have preferred another rival than Leeds right now after the World Cup. It is the most aggressive team in the Premier League, statistically. They don’t give you time to think and you have to be precise. After our defeat against Brentford, and with how strong Arsenal are, as well as the opponents they [can] they come from behind, we have to be alert and careful, because if the distance is greater, it will be very difficult to catch them”.
Guardiola was happier with City’s defense in the 3-2 victory over Liverpool in the Carabao Cup Last Thursday. “You can’t think that against Liverpool you’re not going to concede chances, in transition they are a fantastic team,” he said. “I don’t think there is a team in the world that I am [more impressed with] – every game is completely different and against them we defend very, very well”.
After Leeds, City host Everton on New Year’s Eve, before playing six games next month, including three against direct Premier League rivals. Next Thursday (January 5) they visit Chelsea before hosting the same opposition in the FA Cup third round three days later (January 8). Then there are just two days left before a visit to Southampton in the Carabao Cup (January 10), followed by three league games in nine days: the Manchester derby at Old Trafford (January 14) and two home games for round off the month: against Tottenham (January 19) and Wolves (January 22).
Guardiola said: “Our schedule in January is terrible in terms of the number of games and the quality of the opponents. We have to restart. This is what we have done against Liverpool and hopefully we can continue.”
Erling Haaland scored his 24th goal of the season against Liverpool. Guardiola was asked if the striker’s foot injury that has previously troubled him requires treatment in light of the string of issues that saw the Norwegian miss 16 games for his former club Borussia Dortmund in the 2021 campaign. -22.
“The injury is completely different from last season,” said the coach. “It was a blow to the foot at Dortmund, when we played the Champions League for them [in October]. The doctor said that he damaged the ligaments in his foot and that it hurts a lot. It’s not easy to recover, that’s why he fought.
“Muscular problems [he had at Dortmund] they are perfect and now his foot is much, much better”.