Football: Keeping City fresh more important for Pep than records

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Bournemouth in Manchester on Dec 23, 2017.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Bournemouth in Manchester on Dec 23, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON • Pep Guardiola will put squad rotation ahead of rewriting the European football history books when runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City visit Newcastle today.

His side crushed Bournemouth 4-0 on Saturday to make it 17 successive league wins, two short of the record for the top five European leagues, set by Bayern Munich during the manager's reign with the Bundesliga club.

But as City negotiate the gruelling fixture schedule over the Christmas period, Guardiola is more interested in making sure his stars keep up their intense style of play than in setting new records.

"Fatigue, I don't think it will be a problem. It may happen but we've a good enough squad," the Spaniard said. "Gabriel (Jesus) didn't play against Bournemouth - he played 120 minutes against Leicester (in the League Cup).

"Danilo, Bernardo (Silva), (Ilkay) Gundogan all helped us against Bournemouth. We have Yaya (Toure). Last game, (Oleksandr) Zinchenko was man of the match and he was not in the squad against Bournemouth. Of course we will rotate in this period."

The outcome will be interesting, even if the fixture list has been relatively kind to City in terms of quality of opposition over Christmas and New Year, with the Newcastle game followed by a visit to Crystal Palace and home meeting with Watford - all clubs struggling for form.

One factor behind City's seemingly unstoppable title charge is that Guardiola has tinkered less with his starting XI.

At this stage of last year's campaign, he had made 140 alterations to his team, mainly because he was unsure about his defence and goalkeeper, and also what was the best formation to use with his new team.

This season, it has been a different story for the Catalan, who has made 118 changes to his starting XI over their opening 28 games.

The benefits of a more settled team are clear. Sergio Aguero, who scored his 14th and 15th goals of the season on Saturday, has developed an understanding with the likes of Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane, David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne.

There is the real prospect that by the time City visit Liverpool in mid-January, they will have broken the record and have 20 straight league victories - not that Guardiola is motivated by the prospect.

"I'm not going to sleep thinking about if I am going to break a record from my time at Bayern Munich," he said, adding that he would spend Christmas poring over videos of the Magpies. "It's about Newcastle."

Newcastle boss Rafael Benitez has urged his side to build on their 3-2 win at West Ham, a first for more than two months which lifted them out of the relegation zone.

"The victory has given us a big boost in confidence, and it will be good if we can now back that result up against Manchester City," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE TIMES, LONDON

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 27, 2017, with the headline 'Keeping City fresh more important for Pep than records'. Print Edition | Subscribe