Pep Guardiola’s latest message to his players should send a strong warning to Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp that the Premier League champions are not ready to leave any stone unturned in their quest for the title. The former Barcelona boss has issued a stark title warning to his Manchester City stars, saying: ‘No excuses — show me how much you want to win it.’
Guardiola wants to ‘smell’ the desire in his squad when they face West Ham on Wednesday night after seeing Liverpool return to the top of the table on Sunday while City were lifting the Carabao Cup. The Catalan was happy to celebrate that success with a champagne toast for the club’s office staff at the training ground on Tuesday, but he has challenged his players to make sure the rest of the season doesn’t go flat.
‘I want to see the desire that we really, really want to win this title,’ said an impassioned Guardiola. ‘I don’t care about the way we want to play. I want the smell in the locker room. I want to smell in the beginning of the game and during the game with our fans that now, when one competition is over, we really want to win this title. I want to see my players’ faces tomorrow. After the game I’ll tell you if I saw something special or not.’
Victory over Chelsea at Wembley came at a price as Fernandinho and Aymeric Laporte sustained injuries that could keep them out of action until the end of next month. Gabriel Jesus and John Stones are still unavailable but Guardiola won’t allow his players to feel sorry for themselves as they try to retain the title and chase an unprecedented quadruple.
‘I don’t want to see excuses about tiredness, fixtures or how many games. That is nothing,’ he added. ‘It doesn’t matter. We have a deep squad, we have good players, a second team, too. When you have the illusion to fight until the end, to retain the title, the power and the energy to give you that, it is higher than any excuses you can find. We have to run tomorrow and beat them, and after that beat them again. In the last two months, the mentality makes the difference.’
Guardiola claimed he didn’t watch the goalless draw at Manchester United that took Liverpool top ahead of their game at home to Watford.
‘Of course we look at what they do and when they don’t win we are happy,’ he said. ‘We have the difference of one point and 33 points to play for, so it’s in their hands but our hands, too. The only thing we can do is put on pressure so they feel we are there and we are going to win and win and win.’
Wednesday sees West Ham boss Manuel Pellegrini return to the Etihad for the first time since he was replaced by Guardiola in 2016. The Chilean was chasing a quadruple of his own when Guardiola’s appointment was confirmed in the February but City’s season fell away after that and Pellegrini only won the League Cup.
‘Everybody was honest to tell Manuel what was happening,’ said Guardiola. ‘I’m sorry for what happened but the intention was not to create a problem for when he was here. If it was the reason, then I apologise.’
Pellegrini, meanwhile, has not given up hope of maintaining his proud record of never failing to qualify for Europe. The 65-year-old achieved the feat four times in charge of Villarreal and three with Malaga, as well as securing Champions League qualification in his single season at Real Madrid and guiding Manchester City through three times. Making it 12 with West Ham looks a long shot, but Pellegrini insisted: ‘We have an opportunity and that is why we need to play so well in these 11 remaining games. That must always be our mentality — to try to arrive in one spot for European competition.’