Man City’s Guardiola Relishing Chelsea Showdown
Pep Guardiola had barely savoured Manchester City’s 2-1 victory at Burnley before he was considering preparations for a more sumptuous Premier League feast against pacesetters Chelsea.
The former Barcelona manager, still adapting to life in the English fast lane, will have a whole week to get ready for the Etihad Stadium clash that will pit together two likely title contenders.
That will seem almost luxurious after eight days that encompassed demanding games at Crystal Palace and Burnley — both won — either side of a 1-1 Champions League draw at Borussia Moenchengladbach.
“We are going to be playing against the best team in the Premier League. They have been amazing over the past five or six weeks,” said City manager Guardiola after Saturday’s victory at Turf Moor.
“We will try to discover the secret of how we can beat them and we have six or seven days to prepare. Most of the players are tired.”
While City have won six of their seven away games in the league this season, their home form has stuttered and the win at Burnley completed back-to-back league victories for the first time since September.
Guardiola had reason once more to be grateful to Sergio Aguero, the prolific City striker who he has criticised over his work-rate and who has yet to sign the new contract that has been long in the offing.
The Argentina forward came up with the goals at Burnley that rescued three points for City after they had fallen behind to a rare strike from midfielder Dean Marney, his first top-flight goal in seven years.
Aguero raised his current remarkable strike rate to 33 goals in 34 Premier League appearances despite a foot injury that had made him a doubt even on the morning of the game.
“He said, ‘I have pain, but I can play,’” Guardiola said afterwards.
Aguero’s predatory nature ensured that City go into their toughest month of the season with a win.
The Chelsea game next Saturday will be followed by matches against Arsenal and Liverpool before December is out, as well as a visit to defending champions Leicester City.
– ‘Beautiful goals’ –
Aguero’s scrappy 37th-minute equaliser was plundered from close range after Burnley failed to clear a corner.
His second went in off his knee at the near post after Fernandinho produced a superb pull-back following a pinball sequence in the Burnley box.
“Beautiful goals,” joked Guardiola, whose side sit third in the table, a point behind leaders Chelsea.
It was harsh reward for some good goalkeeping by Paul Robinson, the 37-year-old former Tottenham Hotspur and England player.
He had been called into Premier League action for the first time since 2012 after Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton, the current England squad player, damaged a calf in training.
“He’s as lean and fit as he’s ever been and he has a calmness to him,” said Sean Dyche, the Burnley manager. “Age goes out of the window when you are performing like that.”
Dyche, who engineered a deserved win over Liverpool earlier in the season, admitted Burnley’s plan had been to make life “as awkward and tough as possible”.
“I’ll be amazed if they are not up amongst it at the end of the season,” he said of City.
Guardiola can look ahead with no new injuries to worry about, after confirming that Raheem Sterling’s withdrawal at Burnley was tactical.
The subdued England winger had been the target of home fans, who chanted: “You’ve let your country down!”
Guardiola said: “He is an England player and a really nice guy. I like supporters who support their teams.”