LONDON – Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has always kept his cards close to his chest when it comes to his thoughts on his opponents.
The Spaniard has often said his side will face difficult tests no matter who they are playing against and, as they prepare for their English Premier League home clash against Newcastle United on Saturday, he had only praise for the fifth-placed Magpies.
“This season they are taking a step forward,” he said.
“What I have seen lately, what they have done all season. It is one of the toughest (tests) we have. The threats, transitions, set pieces. Best team.
“They’ve signed experienced players, exactly what they need, and they have a manager with huge quality. Maybe they were a surprise, but not any more. They’ll stay there (at the top).”
City beat Bournemouth 4-1 in the league last weekend and defeated Bristol City 3-0 in midweek to ease through to the FA Cup quarter-finals – in which they will take on former City captain Vincent Kompany’s Burnley.
With FA Cup action aside, Guardiola will turn his attention to the Premier League as he seeks to ramp up the pressure on leaders Arsenal.
They trail the Gunners (60) by five points, but a win will cut the deficit to two for a couple of hours at least, before Mikel Arteta’s men host Bournemouth.
Guardiola will also be wary that in-form rivals Manchester United are hunting them down in third, sitting six points further back with a game in hand.
Following five away matches in all competitions, with three wins and two draws, City are back at the Etihad on Saturday.
The champions have beaten Newcastle in their last 13 Premier League encounters on home soil, and they also boast the best home record this season, accumulating 31 points from a possible 36.
City have scored in each of their previous 28 league matches against Eddie Howe’s Magpies, so they will be the favourites to win on Saturday.
Guardiola also confirmed that John Stones, Aymeric Laporte and Stefan Ortega were all back in training following injury and illness, and they “feel better, much better” ahead of the match.
Apart from the match, the City boss also claimed that Kompany will one day take over his seat as the Belgian is doing a good job at Burnley.
“I said sooner or later he will be manager for City, I am sure. I am delighted for him personally. He will be back sooner or later, it is written in the stars. It is going to happen, I don’t know when but it will,” said Guardiola.
Newcastle, meanwhile, are hoping to pick themselves up quickly following their 2-0 League Cup final loss to United last Sunday.
Following an impressive start to the season, Howe’s men have slipped out of the top four of late – four points behind Tottenham Hotspur (45) with two games in hand – after winning just one of their last seven league games.
However, they have reason to be positive as they are undefeated in their previous eight top-flight away matches, and have shown that they can be on a par with City after a 3-3 draw at St James’ Park in August.
“In the league, we have stalled a little bit. We haven’t won the games that we wanted to, so we need to reignite that,” said Howe.
“As much as we didn’t want it to be, the Cup final was a big distraction for us. We were bruised on Sunday and Monday, but very quickly it turned to Manchester City and return to work, really. We want to attack everything and finish as high as we can.
“I do feel we have closed the gap and we continue to try and close that gap on the teams above us. We are competitive and we need to improve lots of aspects of our play to try and win those games.”
Goalkeeper Nick Pope will return after missing the League Cup final due to suspension, while Anthony Gordon is also available after being Cup-tied in the Wembley loss.
Emil Krafth is Newcastle’s only injury absentee, and Bruno Guimaraes is fit after a minor knock.