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.
Wigan Athletic’s James McClean reveals autism diagnosis in heartfelt Instagram message
Wigan Athletic and Ireland star James McClean has revealed his recent autism diagnosis in solidarity with the ASD community and to help support the international week of awareness.
The Latics, long-serving Irish international and former Premier League winger informed his followers of the personal news in a heartwarming social media post with his young daughter who is also autistic.
In contrast to his four-year-old girl, Willow-Ivy — whose autism was recognised early on — McClean has only just learned of his own diagnosis, having “decided to go and get an ASD [autism spectrum disorder] assessment” after spotting “so many small traits in her” that he sees in himself.
Taking to Instagram, the 33-year-old said he felt there was no better time to make this announcement than during Autism Awareness and Acceptance Week (27 March-2 April) and stand in solidarity with his daughter and others who are on the spectrum.
As he details in the caption: “The last 4 years have been life-changing in the most amazing way but also very difficult at times as her daddy watching her overcome so many obstacles in her life and learning how to manage the challenges she faces on a daily basis.
“The more Erin [partner] and I learned about autism the more we began to recognise I was very similar to Willow in more ways than we thought… It’s been a bit of a journey and now having a diagnosis I feel it’s time to share it.”
He goes on to admit that he “debated for a while going public” but that he’s now “done this for Willow-Ivy, to let her know that [he] understand[s] and that being autistic won’t and should never hold her back from reaching her goals and dreams.” Such a lovely and inspiring message.
No one should ever feel like they need to hide what makes them the person that they are a secret. We applaud you for speaking out, James, and wish you and your little girl all the best.
Rodri slams ‘rubbish’ Scotland despite historic 2-0 defeat as Scott McTominay scores yet again
Manchester City star Rodri has called out Scotland for their “rubbish” tactics and style of play following their now famous 2-0 win over Spain.
Scotland hosted Spain at Hampden Park stadium on Tuesday night in the first round of Euro 2024 qualifiers and after having beaten Cyprus 3-0 on 25 March, the Tartan army managed an even more significant victory over the three-time champions, beating them for the first time since 1984.
Speaking to media after the game and obviously disappointed with the result, the Man City midfielder said that he didn’t feel the scoreline fully reflected the game and had a very clear opinion on what he thought of the home side’s performance.
In a word: “rubbish”.
Rodri went on to argue that, in his mind, “this is not football”, claiming that the opposition were “always wasting time” and trying to “provoke” the Spanish players by going to ground after most tackles.
The 26-year-old was also critical of the officials, intimating that the referee had the opportunity to intervene but simply “said nothing”.
On the contrary, the Scottish reporter interviewing challenged the Spaniard by suggesting that many fans within the ground would argue that Spain were guilty of the same “in terms of how quickly the players went down”. Rodri naturally disagreed.
Either way, it wasn’t time-wasting that made the headlines on the night, it was Manchester United midfielder Scott McTominay, who bagged yet another brace to send the national stadium into pandemonium with his third and fourth goals for Scotland in the last two games.
The 26-year-old opened the scoring inside just seven minutes and grabbed his second similarly early into the second half with an instinctive volley.
Along with his double against Cyprus at the weekend, that makes four goals in the last two games, with many Reds noting his heroics have come a key time with the likes of Casemiro suspended and Austrian international Marcel Sabitzer potentially injured again.
McTominay might have dropped out of United’s first-choice midfield when everyone is fit but has still proven himself to be a solid squad player.
Moreover, perhaps this international break has helped him send a message to Erik ten Hag ahead of a key period for the club.