Big Match

Liverpool won’t buckle: Guardiola

Kevin de Bruyne (right) and Bernardo Silva (left) congratulating Gabriel Jesus for scoring Manchester City's second goal in their 2-0 win over Everton on Wednesday. De Bruyne is not guaranteed a start against Chelsea today.
Kevin de Bruyne (right) and Bernardo Silva (left) congratulating Gabriel Jesus for scoring Manchester City's second goal in their 2-0 win over Everton on Wednesday. De Bruyne is not guaranteed a start against Chelsea today.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Despite Reds dropping points recently, City boss expects them to be in title race till the end

LONDON • Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola does not believe Liverpool's recent stumbles in the Premier League title race have been the result of mounting pressure applied by his side.

While Liverpool will still have a game in hand after this weekend's round of matches, back-to-back league draws against Leicester and West Ham have allowed the champions right back into the race.

But at a press conference ahead of today's league game with Chelsea at home, the City boss felt the Reds were not going to buckle and would "be there till the end".

He said: "Liverpool are exceptional, I don't have the feeling (that there are nerves), (Jurgen) Klopp, Virgil van Dijk (don't) feel the pressure, (Roberto) Firmino, (Mohamed) Salah, (Sadio) Mane.

"I feel they play good and try to win the games, (so) we have to be there to win our games."

Such is the embarrassment of riches at his disposal that he will have the luxury of recalling Kevin de Bruyne against his former club today, after leaving the player on the bench at Everton in midweek.

Although de Bruyne came on late to set up Gabriel Jesus' second goal in their 2-0 win, Guardiola is wary of overplaying his side's Player of the Year last season after two long injury layoffs this campaign.

Asked whether de Bruyne, 27, would again be named as a substitute, he confirmed "it was quite possible" before hinting that the player, who has started only four league games this term, had dropped down the pecking order.

He added: "At the end, we judge the players for who they are, but they are there to perform.

"There are times when teammates are in better condition. In football, what you have done in the past, you have to do again in future.

"We try to control the players, he played the last two. At Everton (on Wednesday), a few minutes, I want him to play as much as possible.

"He went out for five minutes and he was incredible. I want him to sustain that for a long time. When you're out a long time, I don't want him playing game, game, game."

Aymeric Laporte is expected to continue to deputise at left-back against Maurizio Sarri's men today, as first-choice Benjamin Mendy has played just 27 minutes of football since Nov 11.

Guardiola conceded that it could yet be some time before Mendy, who also spent most of last season on the sidelines, returns to full match fitness.

The 48-year-old said: "He's injured, it's not easy, (the) meniscus (issue). He needs to re-adapt, it's not that if you start training in two days you are fit, he has to handle the effort we are putting on him - he has to be careful."

Mendy had nearly earned Guardiola's ire after the 24-year-old put up an Instagram post indicating he was in Hong Kong, despite telling his manager he was going to Paris.

While he later clarified on Twitter it had been a joke, he continued to post memes of his whereabouts and a picture yesterday, which apparently indicated he was in Dubai.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

MAN CITY V CHELSEA

Singtel TV Ch102 & StarHub Ch227, 11.55pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 10, 2019, with the headline 'Liverpool won’t buckle: Guardiola'. Print Edition | Subscribe