Pep Guardiola has issued a withering response to rivals’ claims that Manchester City’s stranglehold at the top of the Premier League is partly down to limited coronavirus cases and injuries. City will move 13 points clear of second-placed Chelsea if they beat the European champions at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.
Thomas Tuchel, the Chelsea manager, said this week that City had “not suffered from Covid like we did” and Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk suggested the Premier League champions had been helped “enormously” by better luck with fewer cases and injury problems. But Guardiola responded with derision to the claims and put them firmly in the same bracket as accusations that City’s success over the past decade is solely down to the money they have been able to spend.
“If they [Chelsea and Liverpool] believe it’s the reason why then maybe. Sometimes it’s the money that we have, sometimes it’s Covid. I don’t know. Maybe,” the City manager said, tongue in cheek. City had seven players and 14 staff, including Guardiola and his No 2 Juanma Lillo, isolating when they faced Swindon Town in the FA Cup last Friday.
The manager said the club had since reported “some new cases”, although most players are back. Guardiola – who has taken just one training session since returning from isolation and will be in the technical area against Chelsea – has been left exasperated by claims City have been “lucky” when it has come to Covid and injuries this season.
A host of first-team players have been unavailable through coronavirus this season and City have also wrestled with injuries to a number of leading players, including De Bruyne, Foden, Stones and Ferran Torres.
“I say what I said before – the situation is all around the world. We had injuries, we had Covid,” Guardiola said. “Maybe we don’t say which players – out of respect [to those players] the club don’t do it – but we had a lot of players and backroom staff with Covid and at the beginning of the season we had a lot of tough injuries with our players.
“So what can I say? If they believe we were lucky, OK we were lucky. Thank you. What can I say? The pandemic is all around the world and everywhere there is the virus. We are exposed every single minute and day to getting it and we’re no exception.”
The Premier League has been postponing games in cases where clubs do not have at least 13 outfield players and a goalkeeper, but Guardiola has insisted his side would be prepared to field a team with only 11 or 12 first-teamers available.
“We try to play,” he said. “If we have 11 or 12 players, it’s enough, we play. We have Cole Palmer, James McAtee and other players we try to play. We have enough players. “I don’t know what counts. Is it just Covid or injuries? Injuries happen all the time so I don’t know the rules of the Premier League when games are called off – for which reason. In many cases we had just 12 first-team players available plus the keeper and we played.”
Guardiola said he took pride at the extent of City’s lead at this stage and that it was down to the team’s consistency. “The fact we are here is because we were consistent in the toughest months, November and especially December, and how we overcame the toughest situations that we had in the squad and problems that we had with injuries and Covid,” he said. Guardiola said City’s 10-point advantage was all the more impressive given the strength of Chelsea and Liverpool.
“If you had told me one month ago we would be in this position, 10 points clear, I would say it was impossible because I couldn’t expect they would drop those points,” he added.