Football: Manchester City must treat games like ‘Cup finals’ for title tilt: Pep Guardiola

Manchester City's Kelechi Iheanacho taps home their second goal past Hull goalkeeper David Marshall, having come on as a substitute. City won 3-0 to stay seven points behind the league's pace-setters Chelsea.
Manchester City's Kelechi Iheanacho taps home their second goal past Hull goalkeeper David Marshall, having come on as a substitute. City won 3-0 to stay seven points behind the league's pace-setters Chelsea.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola believes that every game in the second half of the season will be like a Cup final for his title hopefuls.

An impressive and hard-earned 3-0 Premier League win at Hull helped City keep pace with leaders Chelsea after Antonio Conte's side beat Bournemouth by the same score earlier on Monday.

The Blues had opened up a 10-point gap over Guardiola's team for whom defeat at Hull would have spelt disaster.

The Spaniard admitted the pressure was on following that result. But a Yaya Toure penalty, a tap-in from substitute Kelechi Iheanacho and an own goal from Curtis Davies ensured the City coach eventually enjoyed his first Boxing Day in English football with a victory.

But he also conceded that such pressure will be routine for his side in the new year, especially with title rivals Chelsea and Liverpool not encumbered by having to play in European competition.

"Sometimes you play before, sometimes you play later," said Guardiola. "But it doesn't matter whether you are seven points or 10 points behind when one team has won 12 in a row.

"We have one game to finish the first half of the season and then the second starts and it's like a final for us if we want to be there until the end of the season. It will be tough, it will be hard but we have to do absolutely everything to be there."

There was good news for Guardiola when he learnt defender John Stones will not face a long spell on the sidelines after suffering a knee injury 16 minutes into the match.

"He had a huge kick on his knee and couldn't run," explained Guardiola. "When you look at his knee, it is badly swollen but it is just a kick, not something serious like ligaments."

Without Stones, City kept a clean sheet for just the second time in nine away league games this season, a decent achievement given Hull's physical and direct approach.

And given that striker Sergio Aguero has been suspended since early December, Guardiola can point to a tangible improvement in his side's recent performances.

"The first half was quite good in terms of control, except in the last five minutes when we conceded a few stupid fouls and they created some problems with the quality of (Robert) Snodgrass' set pieces. But we forgot in the first half where the goal was," the City coach said.

"In the second half, our strikers saw the goal a bit more and after the first goal it was easy."

Hull manager Mike Phelan took some encouragement from the game despite the defeat.

"I thought to take on City the way we did was the right thing to do and there was a bit of anguish and frustration from their dugout at times," he said.

"But that first goal is massive. We tried to have a go after that but it is just a case of 'can we manage the game better'. We need to learn from that as we are on the end of another defeat - a harsh defeat because I don't think it was a 3-0 game."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2016, with the headline 'City must treat games like 'Cup finals' for title tilt: Pep'. Print Edition | Subscribe