Games at Palace always difficult: Pep

LONDON • Despite suffering a setback in midweek after losing to Tottenham Hotspur in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final, Manchester City are still on course for an unprecedented quadruple.

So whenever his squad's character is questioned - even when the criticism comes from within - Pep Guardiola has to leap to their defence.

City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan, whose contract expires at the end of next season, was scathing in his assessment of their defeat by Spurs, claiming the visitors were "not brave enough" in north London.

But, ahead of today's Premier League match at Crystal Palace, who beat City 3-2 in the league last December, Guardiola refuted his remarks, insisting that while "he (Gundogan) can say whatever he wants", he "absolutely did not agree" with them.

"We have been for 20 months incredible, two games in the last 24 lost. Twenty months, winning every three days, 180 points over the past two seasons," Guardiola said.

"We had two days' rest, they (Spurs) had six. Unfortunately, we could not score, but we have the second leg (on Wednesday) with our friends at home and we'll go for the semi-finals."

While he remains hopeful of turning things around in the reverse fixture, the title race must first take precedence, and the Spaniard knows that "Selhurst Park is always difficult because of the stadium and the quality of the players".

The City manager said: "We knew it weeks ago, how it would be between these important games. There are six games left (in the league).

"We know what we are playing for and we are going to see."

He also revealed midfielder Bernardo Silva and defender Oleksandr Zinchenko were touch and go for the meeting with Roy Hodgson's men. Silva, whose creativity was sorely missed against Spurs, has been one of City's standout players this term, but Guardiola will not take any chances with his fitness as their campaign draws to a close.

Calling the Portugal international an "incredible player", he added: "We will see today. Playing wide, he is a fighter.

"He's so intelligent and clever defensively. He knows when to cut back inside and, with the ball, he can do anything."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 14, 2019, with the headline 'Games at Palace always difficult: Pep'. Print Edition | Subscribe