Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has been given an injury boost and feels his side are in good shape as the final straight of the season begins with a trip to Fulham. City will have a full squad for the trip to West London, barring long-term absentee Fabian Delph.
“I would say after the international break we have came back good, the rhythm is quite similar,” Guardiola said in his Friday press conference. “Now we will play 11 games and we deserve to play 12, maybe 14, maybe 15. There’s eight left in the Premier League, game by game we will see what happens.”
Fulham have won four league games all season
Saturday’s match on paper is one of the easiest left for City. It is the league’s best attack versus the worst defence and, although Scott Parker has got Fulham more organised since taking over as caretaker, they will find it difficult to put up a fight against the side aiming to regain top spot.
“I saw their last three games, they were close against Liverpool, they tried to play. [Alexsandr] Mitrovic in the box is so dangerous, [Ryan] Babel is so fast; I don’t see the table, I see how they do and how they have done and they’ve been doing well.”
The return of Kevin De Bruyne and Fernandinho to first team action will certainly boost the confidence around the club. It was at this stage last season that City paraded to their third Premier League title in six years.
This time the competition is much more fierce and having a full selection of players to choose from will be crucial in balancing out the schedule that also includes an FA Cup semi final against Brighton & Hove Albion along with a Champions League quarter final tie with Tottenham.
City can go back top with a win
Regarding the schedule and the fact that City will play before Liverpool in three of the next four complete league matchdays, Guardiola said: “It’s as always. The calendar is what it is. Sky, BT and the Premier League decide when we play so we play.”
City though will feel that Saturday’s match at Craven Cottage is a good opportunity to put the pressure on Liverpool prior to their crucial home match against Tottenham on Sunday. Fine margins will dictate where this season’s title goes, and at this stage of the campaign, any slight mistake would prove costly.
During his media briefing, Guardiola also spent a short time talking about the newest appointment across the City at Manchester United. “United are always incredible opponents,” the City manager said. “Congratulations to [Ole Gunnar] Solskjaer, he has done incredible in terms of results and I wish him all the best.”
Guardiola wouldn’t hesitate in leading team off for racism
The dominant issue of the press conference, which was spoken about at length, was the racial abuse of Raheem Sterling along with other England players in their recent European Qualifier away in Montenegro. “I think in Europe, not in football, it [racism] is getting worse. Of course it’s a concern, I’m a human being its not very nice,” Guardiola responded.
Regarding the reaction that footballers and managers should take when subjected to such abuse, Guardiola was adamant that walking off the pitch would be doable. “We could do that, football is a strong weapon to defend the principle of humanity,” he said. “I remember a long time ago people said you cannot mix politics and football, but that is not true.”
“Politics is everywhere, human rights is everywhere. A long time ago in Valencia, Guus Hiddink didn’t play because there was a Nazi flag behind the goal, so he stopped it. When the club or the players or the organisation decide to do it, of course we are going to follow them.”
This was a sentiment that both Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino also aligned with during their media briefings. The manner in which Sterling is conducting himself off the pitch is getting just as much praise as how he applies himself on it.
The City forward is fast becoming a significant role model for his generation. He will hope that Saturday sees a calmer environment in which he can apply his undeniable quality and help take City back to the summit.