Pep Guardiola has warned Manchester City that if they fail to beat Liverpool at the Etihad on Thursday then their attempt to retain the Premier League is effectively over.
City can reduce the gap with Liverpool to four points if they win this week, and Guardiola used his post-match press conference after beating Southampton to tell his players that unless they win that game then their title challenge is “almost impossible”. Defeat would restore the gap to 10 points with 17 league games remaining.
“In [given] the position of Liverpool, we drop points, it’s over, it’s finished,” Guardiola said at St Mary’s yesterday evening. “It would be almost impossible. Of course I think they are going to drop points, but not too many. And if we want to be there as far as possible until the end, we have to win games. We have done last season, and this season as well, except the last four days.”
Guardiola hopes that the home support at the Etihad Stadium will be decisive. City drew a tight 0-0 at Anfield earlier in the season. “We know what we have to do,” he said. “It’s first against second next Thursday. I know the distance is big – seven points – especially because they are so solid and consistent. But it’s a game at home and hopefully the extra help from our people [fans] at the Etihad can come.”
Guardiola also told his players that they will have to finish more efficiently if they are to beat Liverpool. Riyad Mahrez missed two one-on-ones, Sergio Aguero missed two from close range and Raheem Sterling and David Silva also missed chances. Despite a wobble at the end of the first half, City should have scored far more goals than they did.
“We missed a lot of chances,” Guardiola said. “The game it was 6-1, 7-1, you have to score. So Liverpool is not going to give us, I think, this amount of chances. So always I had that feeling. We score 106 goals last season, the best ever, but I had the feeling we had to score more.”
Southampton’s goal came from an Oleksandr Zinchenko mistake, and the makeshift left-back nearly gave away a crucial penalty at 1-1, which Guardiola described as “diving” by James Ward-Prowse. But Guardiola hailed Zinchenko’s second-half improvement as “one of the most incredible things” he has ever seen. “Alex was the best player on the pitch today. Do you know why? After the mistake, he never hid. After the mistake, he never said: ‘I don’t want the ball.’ Mistakes are part of the game. He is young, he will learn. That’s why I said to the guys at half-time, ‘Learn from Zinchenko today guys.’ Everybody can make a mistake but what he has done after it today, in the same game, when he could feel bad, guilty for the team, his reaction was outstanding. One of the most incredible things I have ever seen.”