Pep Guardiola has dismissed concerns about Manchester City’s form by suggesting they have played better at times than his Barcelona or Bayern Munich teams.
The City manager also claims he is not concerned by his team’s defensive vulnerabilities and has refused to get drawn in by suggestions they have a disciplinary problem.
City have kept just one clean sheet in their last 15 matches while Saturday’s damaging loss to Premier League title rivals Chelsea has also raised questions about their self-restraint.
The sendings-off of Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho effectively took City’s tally of red cards this season to six if another, retrospective, punishment for the Argentinian in August is counted.
Amid all of this, City’s form has been indifferent. They have not won at home in the Premier League since September and are four points off the top.
Speaking at a press conference to preview tonight’s clash against Celtic, Guardiola said: “After Crystal Palace and Burnley I was a little bit worried. I thought, ‘If we play like this, we are not going to go anywhere’.
“But I know I have to adapt to your football. Sorry guys, I need time.
“But the way we play has been good during that period here. We play good, faster than in Munich and even in Barcelona, when we had one player who was amazing and helped us to create those steps. We lost against Chelsea, but we have to keep going and play the way we can play, create chances and concede few. Now I’m happy and half an hour later, when I got home after the Chelsea game, I thought to myself, ‘this season is going to be good’.”
City dominated for the first hour against Chelsea but paid the price for spurning a host of chances as their leaky defence was exposed late on.
Guardiola has switched between three and four-man rearguards and has regularly changed defensive personnel but insists defending is a job for the whole team.
He said: “I don’t divide football in attack and defence. Football is a continued transition. When you attack good, you defend good. It is not about the strikers just to focus on attack and the defenders just to focus on defending. I don’t think like that.”
Guardiola was more reluctant to speak about his team’s disciplinary record. Aguero and Fernandinho, pictured, are facing four and three-match bans respectively while Nicolas Otamendi will also be suspended for this weekend’s trip to Leicester. In addition, Fernandinho will also miss the visit of Celtic as punishment for his sending off at Borussia Monchengladbach last month.
When pressed on the matter, after an odd exchange, the Spaniard said: “We are the best team with ball possession and with most red cards.”
Guardiola also gave short shrift to reports in Chile that City are interested in Arsenal playmaker Alexis Sanchez.
“Absolutely false,” he said. “The journalist is a liar.”
Guardiola is now planning changes for the Celtic clash, which is effectively dead rubber in Group C. City are assured of the runners-up spot while the Scottish champions cannot climb off the bottom.
The City manager said: “There will be changes, definitely. I am so happy to give minutes to people who deserve to play and who did not play in the last games.
“It is a good test for us. It is perfect to play them in the last game. I didn’t expect to do it already qualified.”
As well as Fernandinho’s absence through suspension tonight, City also have doubts over Raheem Sterling (knee), with captain Vincent Kompany still out.
Striker Sergio Aguero, though, could feature before he serves a domestic ban, while goalkeeper Willy Caballero looks set to feature.