Football: Guardiola urges City to be ready amid New Year ‘distractions’

Manchester City striker Erling Haaland (right) and forward Phil Foden will be key to the team's title charge. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON – Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is in a festive mood but he is hoping that his players can be focused for their Premier League home clash against Everton on Saturday.

The Spaniard admitted on Friday that there was a little “distraction” issue ahead of the New Year’s Eve clash.

“The last two games against Liverpool (3-2 League Cup win) and Leeds (3-1 Premier League victory) were so demanding, high intensity, but we handle really well,” said Guardiola.

“In this period, everyone’s thinking of New Year’s Eve, the distraction can be a problem. Two days after Leeds, we have to be ready.

“I don’t know what Everton will do, sometimes they press high but not last season. We have to know the transitions, starting from goalkeeper (Jordan) Pickford. The quality is there, they have exceptional players.”

Following league leaders Arsenal’s excellent start to the season, Guardiola’s men find themselves five points behind the Gunners.

However, City are still the favourites to retain their Premier League title, thanks to the form of Norwegian striker Erling Haaland.

The 22-year-old scored his 20th league goal of the season in their win over Leeds on Wednesday – the quickest it has taken any player to reach that milestone in a campaign.

City also have strength in depth. Guardiola left Phil Foden, Joao Cancelo, Bernardo Silva and Aymeric Laporte on the bench against Leeds and still managed to win comfortably.

“If he breaks records he’s scoring goals and helping us to win games,” added Guardiola of Haaland.

“Hopefully he can continue to improve, because I have the feeling he can do better. He’s still young, he has the mindset to do it.”

City have beaten Everton in all of their last 10 meetings, so they will be the favourites to win.

However, the last encounter at Goodison Park in February ended in a slim 1-0 win for City, with the match proving controversial as Guardiola’s team won after Everton was not given a clear penalty following a handball by Rodri.

Ruben Dias is set to miss out with a thigh injury, while Julian Alvarez is unlikely to feature as he gradually returns to club football following World Cup success with Argentina.

For Everton, manager Frank Lampard is under huge pressure after four consecutive defeats in all competitions, against Leicester City, Bournemouth and Wolverhampton Wanderers, sides in the bottom half of the Premier League.

The 17th-placed Toffees are not expected to win on Saturday, so their next game on Tuesday against Brighton & Hove Albion could be crucial.

“I think it’s normal that fans are disappointed, as we all are,” said Lampard, who also urged his men to embrace the challenge against City.

“They’ve got possible the greatest coach in the world. An incredible amount of talent and back-up in the squad. As a coach, I think it’s a great challenge.”

Yerry Mina went off injured in the 2-1 loss to Wolves on Boxing Day, while Dominic Calvert-Lewin is back in the squad but remains a doubt. Andros Townsend and James Garner are also out on the sidelines. AFP

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