Pep Guardiola has told his Manchester City players to use their Champions League defeat by Basel as a wake-up call to ensure standards do not slip with two more trophies still up for grabs. City, with the League Cup already in the bag, are virtually certain to win the Premier League title and are among the favourites to lift the Champions League for the first time in their history.
City were beaten 2-1 by Swiss champions Basel in midweek, as Guardiola made six changes, with the likes of David Silva and Vincent Kompany left out. It was only the manager’s second home defeat since his arrival at the Etihad Stadium in July 2016 but it was not a costly one as City still progressed to the quarter-finals with a 5-2 aggregate victory.
He was not happy with the display, though, saying his players “forgot to attack” and is hoping for better when they travel to relegation-threatened Stoke on Monday. Guardiola’s side need a maximum of 12 points from their final nine matches to win the Premier League title but the manager has warned that easing off will lead to problems.
“I know everyone wants to anticipate the situation and what will happen,” he said. “Everyone is thinking about when we will win the title. The best example (of that being dangerous) was two days ago. Nobody thought we could lose against Basel and we lost against Basel. You have to be focused because Stoke away is always complicated. They are fighting to be in the Premier League.”
‘Exceptional’ points gap
Guardiola described the points gap at this stage of the season – City are 16 clear of second-placed Manchester United ahead of the weekend’s fixtures – as “exceptional” but said they could not afford to let down their guard.
“What happens in the (Champions League) quarter-finals depends on our level in the Premier League,” he said. “That’s why we have to be focused on what we have to do.”
Guardiola hopes Fernandinho and Raheem Sterling will be fit to play at Stoke after recovering from hamstring injuries but Fabian Delph, available after completing a three-match ban, is struggling with a muscle problem.
City have almost three weeks without a game after their trip to Stoke, with Guardiola planning to take his players on a short training break to Abu Dhabi.
“Instead of being here, where we have been fighting for eight months with the weather, we will go there and train the same way but in better conditions,” he said. “And we will see our chairman and be there. We did it last season and we will prepare for the last two months of the season.”
Guardiola has dismissed reports that his agent was in Manchester during the week to discuss contracts. The City manager’s deal runs out at the end of next season and he has repeatedly refused to discuss in public whether he will extend it.
“My agent is not in town – was not, is not, will not be in town in the next weeks,” he said.