Pep Guardiola has said he believes that the “focus” has returned to his Manchester City squad after some inconsistent performances following the World Cup.
Whilst it’s worth keeping in mind that City are still flying high in the Prem, sitting in second behind league leaders Arsenal — who they could go level with should they beat them at the Emirates tonight — the Blues haven’t been quite as dominant a force of late as they have been in the past few seasons.
Speaking in the embargoed press conference ahead of their important title clash on Tuesday, Guardiola says that while he recognises there may have been the odd blip with the likes of United, Southampton in the Carabao Cup quarter-final and most recently Spurs, they are now looking back on track.
“I would say the mentality is there”, he said. “We are second in the table, in the FA Cup, in the Champions League again. We didn’t drop much… After what we have done, I don’t have the feeling that everything was a mess. We are close and in moments we are doing really really well.”
The 52-year-old did go on to hint that maybe an element of complacency had set having already amassed nearly half a century of points in the first half of the season, but that it is also the comparison to their success over the past five seasons that has somewhat coloured this recent run of form.
“I understand the standards are so high when you compare with the past and sometimes you don’t do as well and you have to reflect on what is not going well. You accept it. We are just in February, there are a lot of games still to play.”
He also went on to argue that “they are more focused, all of them, remarking that in the past: “when we talk, sometimes you’d see distracted faces but my feeling is that everyone is more focused”.
The suggestion that members of the squad were ‘distracted’ was only further compounded by the departure of versatile wing-back João Cancelo, who left the club after it was reported he would often turn up late and failed to pay attention in team meetings.
While Pep conceded, “Maybe it’s my fault [the focus dropped], maybe I should be more active and present but this is my feeling”, he did argue: “what I have felt is I said to them that is enough. It is not a guarantee of success but without that it is impossible.”
Though he admitted nothing can guarantee their success in the three competitions they remain in this season, he insists that as well as the focus being restored, there is a ‘rhythm and a ‘feeling’ within the squad again.
If this is how well they perform even when they’re ‘off it’ — second place, three points off the top and a goal difference of +34 — then Arsenal will no doubt have to be looking over their shoulder more than they already are.
As alluded to, City can go level on points with the resurgent North London side if they win tonight, but Mikel Arteta’s men still have a game in hand on the reigning champions. FFP scandal aside, the Blues will be looking to keep the pressure on.
Bolton Wanderers boss Ian Evatt slams Wigan Athletic player for post-match celebrations
Bolton Wanderers manager Ian Evatt has criticised Wigan Athletic following their 1-0 loss away at the DW Stadium on Tuesday night, with a player from the home team’s celebrations sparking a bit of a coming together on the pitch.
Understandably rumbling not only the away support but the players on the pitch, it wasn’t long before individuals began confronting each other, including both Evatt and Latics boss Shaun Maloney, with multiple club staff and match officials needed to separate people and calm things down.
Addressing the furious finish to the game, Evatt said, “We just won’t accept one of their players celebrating in front of our fans” and was also quick to remind the home side that there is quite a gulf between the two sides in the table.
“It’s not acceptable — go and celebrate with your own fans, no problem with that, don’t celebrate in front of ours”, Evatt continued, adding: “You certainly shouldn’t be celebrating when you’re mid-table, that’s what I think”.
Bolton sit joint second in League One on 66 points with an extra game in hand on Derby County above them; meanwhile, the Tics are currently in 13th place having played one more game than their fierce rivals, though they have taken all six points from their two meetings this season.
The 42-year-old head coach went on to admit that he was frustrated with the result and felt “apologetic to the fans” as he felt they and the squad deserved more from the game, insisting that Wigan “probably know they’ve got away with one” and the celebrations merely proved the Trotters were “a big scalp”.
Elsewhere, opposite number Maloney said the result should serve as wind in the sails for his players, telling BBC Radio Manchester: “Tonight was just a real deep desire to not concede, a really strong mentality. It’s definitely a question I’ve put to us as a team and as a group.
“I know we’re really young, we’ve got a lot of academy boys there that have not played a full season before, but I want that mentality and tonight they showed it”, he added — citing Godo in particular as one of the top performers on the night.
Nevertheless, as Evatt hastened to add both in defiance and to quell and simmering derby day hangover amongst Bolton fans, there are still “12 big games” left in the season and it’s his team that is fighting for promotion back to the Championship after more than half a decade out of the second tier.
You can watch the highlights from the fiery clash between Wigan Athletic and Bolton Wanders here:
Five-star Haaland: Man City’s striker reminds everyone he’s an utter goal machine
Erling Haaland is well and truly back to business as usual after his five-goal contribution in Manchester City’s 6-2 thrashing over Luton Town.
Fittingly bagging five goals in the fifth round of the FA Cup as the holders cruised into the quarter-finals, Haaland barely wasted any time getting back on the scoresheet as he opened the scoring inside three minutes of the away fixture.
It only took him another quarter of an hour to get his second and while it looked for a brief moment like Luton might have some glimmer of hope after an absolute corker from Jordan Clark, who managed to grab two on the night, the goalscoring phenom managed a first-half hattrick on the 40-minute mark.
Clark’s second came in the 52nd minute to bring the scoreline to 3-2, once again making it look like they might have something to cling on to, only for the Norwegian number nine to resume the annihilation by grabbing his next just a few minutes later and his fifth only moments after that.
While the 23-year-old had looked somewhat off his best over the last few weeks, he did manage to find the net once again in Man City‘s last home game against Brentford and despite striking out against Bournemouth, it looks like the floodgates are once again open.
Fans can argue till the cows come home about the level of opposition and quality of defending on the night, but the reality is that many a team have struggled in the cauldron that is Kenilworth Road and anything can happen in knockout tournaments like this — after all, that’s the ‘magic of the cup’.
Oh yeah, and he broke another record in the process before being taken off — the same thing happened the last time he scored five too. Preventing injuries/preserving players’ energy aside, Guardiola seemingly doesn’t fancy letting him score six for some, even though we all know he would.
He literally could’ve had six but Pep clearly thought five was plenty and subbed him off in the 77th minute, but it goes without saying that the legend in the making regaining his form right before the Manchester derby this weekend only spells disaster for Man United.
The Red Devils looked lacklustre in their previous game at home in the 2-1 defeat to Fulham and they haven’t won at the Etihad Stadium in their last three visits, while the Blues are now unbeaten in their last 18. Sunday is going to be a blockbuster.
You can watch the highlights from Manchester City’s emphatic FA Cup victory over Luton and yet another star showing from Erling Haaland down below: