Manchester City’s Belgian midfielder Kevin De Bruyne (centre R) is mobbed by teammates after scoring his team’s second goal during the English Premier League football match between Leicester City and Manchester City at King Power Stadium in Leicester, central England on November 18, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Lindsey PARNABY
Pep Guardiola believes the seeds for Manchester City’s extraordinary season were sown during a 3-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur in a pre-season friendly in the United States.
City crushed Tottenham again on Saturday, a 4-1 win at the Etihad Stadium giving Guardiola’s side a record 16th successive Premier League victory and keeping them 11 points clear at the top of the table.
Spurs lie 21 points below them in seventh place, having finished eight points above City last season, and Guardiola thinks the tide began to turn in July’s friendly in Nashville.
“Tottenham Hotspur last season, compared to Chelsea, played the best football in the Premier League,” said the City manager.
“I’m quite happy because I think this season started going well in our game in LA (sic) against Tottenham in pre-season. Our first game in pre-season was against (Manchester) United and we lost.
“The second one (actually the third, after a 4-1 win over Real Madrid) was against Tottenham.
“There we created maybe eight, nine or 10 chances to score a lot of goals. We missed a lot. But we saw altogether, ‘OK, that is the way we have to do that.’
“And since then we maintained that level. Ups and downs, of course. For example, in Bournemouth and against Southampton we won in the last minute.
“But in general we maintained that level that we started with against Tottenham Hotspur in pre-season.
“In pre-season, for the big teams it’s not points, but you have to play like (it’s) an official game. We did it and we’ve maintained that level for maybe three or four months. That’s why we are so happy.”
City will go in search of a 17th successive league win at home to Bournemouth next weekend, which would leave them two wins short of the overall record for Europe’s five major leagues, which Guardiola set with Bayern Munich in 2013-14.
– ‘It breaks my heart’ –
Before that they visit Leicester City in the League Cup quarter-finals on Tuesday.
Gabriel Jesus could come into City’s starting XI at Leicester, having come off the bench to replace Sergio Aguero — and then squandered a penalty — against Spurs.
Aguero reacted angrily to his 58th-minute substitution, tossing his gloves to the floor and casting a dark look towards the dug-out, but Guardiola played down his show of displeasure.
“That’s normal. The players want to play,” he said.
“I can understand him. He wants to play. He’s a top player, but at that moment I needed a little bit more energy with Gabriel in that position. That’s why I decided to take a decision.
“I always don’t want to hurt the players, believe me. I understand them because I was a football player. They want to play, but I have to take decisions.
“If he’s sad or upset, I’m sorry. We just think about the next one.”
Guardiola said leaving players out of his starting XIs was one of the most difficult parts of the job.
“Always when I make a decision I think (about) many things. It’s never personal, because I trust the guys a lot,” he told reporters after the win over Spurs.
“For me, it always breaks my heart when Danilo cannot play, when Bernardo (Silva) cannot play, when Yaya (Toure) cannot play and the other players cannot play.
“Always it breaks my heart because they deserve (to play), but it is what it is.”