Pep Guardiola insisted consistency is the only reason for Manchester City’s sizeable lead at the Premier League summit, as he hailed the “exceptional” nature of his side and their long-time rivals Liverpool.
City host Chelsea on Saturday as first take on second, though Guardiola’s side currently hold a 10-point advantage, with Liverpool 11 behind in third place.
Following their 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge earlier this season, City are looking to secure the Premier League double over Chelsea for the fourth time, previously doing so in 2009-10, 2015-16 and 2017-18.
They have won their last 11 Premier League games, their fifth such run of 11 or more consecutive victories in the competition.
However, despite his team’s healthy lead, Guardiola does not believe Chelsea or Liverpool have dropped off. Instead, he credits City with finding another level of consistency.
“The Premier League is the strongest,” he told reporters.
“We are here now because we were consistent, especially in the toughest month in December, when there were many games and how we overcame the tough situations we had in the squad, problems with injuries and COVID.
“We got results playing really good, but also not good, like against Arsenal how we were able to win. We were consistent. This is the reason why, no secrets.
“My opinion about Liverpool and Chelsea does not change one bit. They are more than excellent teams. One is the champion of Europe, the other is the biggest rival in the last two, three, four seasons.
“Football changes quickly. What you have to do is rise and increase a bit our football compared to the last two teams we’ve played. We’ll have to do it tomorrow to compete.”
Guardiola then enthused about the continued level of performance of both City and Liverpool, who have had a thrilling rivalry in recent seasons, adding: “I have to say it was because Liverpool and City were exceptional, not because the others were wrong.
“[Manchester] United were close I remember one year with [Jose] Mourinho, and last season, but we were exceptional. What Liverpool and City have done in the last four years has never been seen before in this country.
“Antonio Conte with Chelsea started a little bit in my first season here but after that Liverpool and City made a step, and I think the other opponents did well, Chelsea, United, Tottenham, but Liverpool and City were out of this world.
“I’m proud, after six years together, five years of success, that in January we are competing in every single game. That is an incredible credit to these exceptional players. My job is to put my words behind them, tell them the truth, that’s what I need to continue.”
— Manchester City (@ManCity) January 14, 2022
Guardiola did, however, hit out at the suggestion City had been fortunate with COVID-19, something which Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk and Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel both claimed.
“It’s a situation that’s all around the world. We’ve had injuries, COVID,” said Guardiola, who was one of 21 members of City’s squad to miss last week’s FA Cup win over Swindon Town after testing positive.
“We had a lot of people with COVID. At the beginning of the season we’ve had a lot of incredibly tough injuries for our players. They believe we were lucky – okay, we were lucky. The thing is the pandemic is all around the world, we are exposed to the virus, we are not the exception.
“If they believe this is the reason why… maybe. Sometimes it’s the money we have, sometimes it’s COVID.”
Saturday’s game is just the second between City and Chelsea in the Premier League in which they are the top two teams. The other such match finished 1-1 in 2015.
After beating Liverpool 4-0 in July 2020, and Chelsea 1-0 earlier this season, City are looking to become the fourth English club to win three consecutive meetings with reigning European champions in all competitions, after Notts County (1982), Tottenham Hotspur (1983-84) and Everton (1984-85).