Manchester City’s Spanish manager Pep Guardiola / AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLIS
Pep Guardiola has challenged Manchester City to prove they are still the Premier League’s preeminent force as the champions face a key test against title rivals Tottenham on Monday.
Since losing to Lyon in the Champions League in September, Guardiola’s side have gone on a seven-game unbeaten run in all competitions.
City have won six of those matches, with the only draw a goalless stalemate against Liverpool that ranked as an impressive result given their struggles at Anfield last season.
An eye-catching 3-0 win at Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League on Tuesday prompted Guardiola to hail the performance as City’s best this season.
Given City had just thrashed Burnley 5-0, while also enjoying a 5-0 win at Cardiff and a 6-1 demolition of Huddersfield this term, that ranks as high praise from the Spaniard.
But Guardiola knows much sterner tests lie in wait for City, starting against a Tottenham side who have made their best start to a Premier League season.
“Always it’s tough. It was in my first season here. I didn’t expect any more,” Guardiola said.
“Nothing is going to change my opinion of my team. I want to focus to win the game and give a good performance, knowing the quality of the Spurs side.
“But it’s not going to finish anything. After this it’s Fulham, Southampton, Manchester United and Shakhtar.”
While City are in good form, there is less attention on the champions this season as free-scoring Liverpool and revitalised Chelsea and Arsenal have taken the spotlight.
Liverpool knocked City off the top with a 4-1 win over Cardiff on Saturday, but Guardiola’s men can regain pole position on goal difference if they beat Tottenham at Wembley.
Having already won at Arsenal and held Liverpool at bay, seeing off Tottenham would show City remain the cream of the crop.
Crucially, Guardiola feels the competition for places in his star-studded squad is keeping everyone on top of their game.
“All the players want to play good, be ready, be part of the team. We are lucky to have a squad with huge quality,” he said.
“They try to play good because if it doesn’t happen, others are ready.”
City’s trip to Wembley comes 24 hours after the Jacksonville Jaguars take on the Philadelphia Eagles at the national stadium.
There has been concern about what condition the pitch will be in after a pounding from the NFL teams.
Guardiola admits it is not an ideal situation, but insists he will not hold back any players, including Kevin De Bruyne, who only made his first start in midweek after two months out injured with a knee problem.
Tottenham can move above City with a win as Mauricio Pochettino’s team try to get back on track following a damaging midweek draw at PSV Eindhoven.
Conceding a late goal in Eindhoven has left Tottenham’s hopes of making the Champions League knockout stages hanging by a slender thread.
While they have struggled in Europe, the north Londoners have won their last four league games to keep in touch with the leaders, albeit without playing at their best in that run.
Pochettino is well aware City are the standard by which all aspiring title contenders should be judged.
“I think for me they are the best team today in England, fantastic players, an amazing manager,” he said.
“The quality of the club, the players, the coaching staff and Pep of course, make them a very difficult opponent. It’s a massive challenge for us to play against them.
“I don’t believe that in football you can find something that is impossible to do, but it will be difficult of course because we need to play well and have a bit of luck to win the game.”