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Pep Guardiola warns Manchester City players against taking their foot off the peddle

The Independent logo The Independent 9/3/2018 Mike Whalley

Pep Guardiola has told his Manchester City players to use Wednesday’s Champions League defeat by Basel to ensure their standards do not slip as they chase two more trophies.

City are looking to add a European and the Premier League title to the Carabao Cup, which they won by beating Arsenal at the end of February.

Yet they were beaten 2-1 by the Swiss champions in midweek, as Guardiola made six changes, with 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, and it was not a costly one, as they still went through to the quarter-finals with a 5-2 aggregate victory.

He was not happy with the display, though, saying that 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.

Yet the manager has warned that easing off will lead to problems. He said: “I know everyone wants to anticipate the situation and what will happen. 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.

a man in a suit and tie: pep-guardiola.jpg © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited pep-guardiola.jpg
Pep Guardiola criticised his players for ‘forgetting to play’ in the second half against Basel (Getty)

“You have to be focused because Stoke away is always complicated. They are fighting to be in the Premier League.

“That’s why I can imagine how tough it will be. We have to be focused.

“I think the situation this season is exceptional. The distance [we are in front] is not normal in the beginning of March. It’s like I said before, it’s almost done, it’s almost done.

“But we are not the champions. The champions are still Chelsea. We have to get the points as soon as possible, knowing that we have the opportunity.

“But what happens in the [Champions League] quarter-finals, depends on our level in the Premier League. That’s why we have to be focused on what we have to do.”

City’s huge lead means that Manchester United and Liverpool are effectively playing for second place when they meet at Old Trafford on Saturday.

Yet even though one of the biggest club games in European football is effectively a battle for the runners-up spot, Guardiola still sees it as a huge fixture.

He said: “We are going to see the game between Liverpool and Manchester United [on television] as spectators and it would have happened if the distance was smaller. It’s a big game and always we are delighted to watch it.”

Guardiola is hopeful that 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 for his red card at Wigan in the FA Cup in February – 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.

The manager said: “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.

“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, meanwhile, has dismissed reports that his agent Josep Maria Orobtig 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.

He said: “My agent is not in town – was not, is not, will not be in town in the next weeks.”

© Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Pep Guardiola with a beard © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited

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