Arsenal moved eight points clear of City courtesy of a 3-1 comeback win over West Ham United on Monday. Guardiola has told his players there is no margin for error and they must resume their title defence with a bang, starting at Leeds United tonight.
“I would have preferred another opponent than Leeds in that moment after the World Cup,” the City manager said. “They are the most aggressive team in the Premier League, statistically. They don’t give you time to think and you have to be precise; you have to be at a high level to do it in the situations you have.
“With how strong Arsenal are, we have to be alert and careful, because if the distance is bigger, it will be so difficult to catch them.”
After Leeds and Everton on Saturday, City’s next three league fixtures are away to Chelsea and Manchester United and then at home to Tottenham, during which period they also face an FA Cup third-round tie against Chelsea and Carabao Cup quarter-final at Southampton.
“In terms of a question of rhythm, the players who were at the World Cup are better than Riyad (Mahrez), Erling (Haaland), Cole (Palmer), Sergio (Gomez),” said Guardiola, who played down any prospect of reinforcements in the January transfer window.
“So yeah, we talked today, ‘Guys, back to business’. Our schedule in January is terrible in terms of the amount of games and the quality of the opponents. We have to restart. This is what we have done against Liverpool (in the Carabao Cup) and hopefully we can continue.”
Although Julian Alvarez is expected to miss the Leeds match after winning the World Cup with Argentina 10 days ago, Erling Haaland, who scored his 24th goal of the season in the win over Liverpool, will lead the line for City if fit.
Haaland has been managing a foot ligament problem suffered in the 0-0 Champions League draw away to Dortmund in October. “Day by day, he’s getting better, as much. He can train and he will get his condition,” Guardiola said.
Guardiola also insists Alvarez’s exploits for Argentina will only benefit City – rather than give him a selection headache. “He doesn’t need to play a World Cup or win it for us to know exactly how he is as a player,” he said.
“Of course, for him it’s absolutely unbelievable, the age he is, to be a world champion. Thanks to Argentina, he will come back a better player. That is magnificent for us.”
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