Football: Pep urges Man City to keep calm and carry on

Pep Guardiola and Leroy Sane celebrate after the match against Huddersfield Town.
Pep Guardiola and Leroy Sane celebrate after the match against Huddersfield Town. PHOTO: REUTERS

MANCHESTER, United Kingdom (AFP) - Pep Guardiola says Manchester City's ability to keep calm and stick to their free-flowing attacking principles is paying big dividends for the Premier League leaders this season.

The City manager has already watched his players score vital goals in the final 15 minutes five times in just 13 games.

That has helped City open up an eight-point gap on their Premier League rivals and top their Champions League group with a game to spare as part of a record-breaking start to the campaign.

Guardiola was criticised in his first season in English football for refusing to change his style of play when his team needed a late goal.

But the former Barcelona and Bayern manager now believes his approach is being vindicated following Raheem Sterling's 84th-minute effort in the 2-1 win over Huddersfield at the weekend (Nov 26).

That came after late goals secured the points in matches against Brighton, Everton, Bournemouth and Feyenoord.

Guardiola, 46, is pleased his players continue to pass the ball, rather than adopt desperate, long-ball tactics as they seek late results.

"That's good when that happens and you don't panic," he said.

"You decide in the last 15 minutes to change (defender) Vincent Kompany for (forward) Gabriel (Jesus), it sends a message to the rest of the team that you want to win.

"We played with two strikers and immediately after the goal we saw that they changed and put two strikers and play long balls.

"Because the holding midfielder was (Ilkay) Gundogan and the central defender was Fernandinho, we changed again.

"When that happens it's because they believe in what we want to do. It happened because last season we worked on it as well.

"The results help for the team's mentality and helps them believe a little bit more."

Guardiola faced heavy criticism last season for sticking to his principles as pressure on the defence often gave their opposition chances.

With City not getting to grips with his demands in attack, the manager was left to bat away questions about his style of play as his team finished well off the pace.

The 2016-17 campaign was also Guardiola's first without silverware in his management career, raising questions about his ability to adapt to football in England.

"I understand completely, we know how the business is," he said. "Always people come for the people who smell good - and who smells good? The guy who won."

Guardiola said that he was pleased to have the backing of the City hierarchy, adding that moulding the team into his vision was a long-term proposition.

"People believe the managers arrive and everything works, but no," he said.

"Sometimes it works next month, sometimes you need more time."