Pep Guardiola’s Man City will pip Liverpool side who haven’t dropped a point since March 3 to title by winning final two games
Pep Guardiola has put title rivals Liverpool on a par with Barcelona as the toughest side he has ever managed against.
Until this season, Guardiola was convinced the best opposing team he’d seen from the touchline was his former club Barca, led by Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar up front, when they beat his Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-finals four years ago on their way to lifting the trophy.
But he now reckons Jurgen Klopp’s Reds, who have pushed his reigning-champions Manchester City all the way this season and taken the title race to the final day next Sunday, deserve to stand alongside that formidable Nou Camp crop.
“In my career as a manager, I played against incredible sides,” said Guardiola. “But there are two that were ‘Wow!’ One is Barcelona managed by Luis Enrique, with Neymar, Messi and Suarez. The other is this Liverpool.
“They’re the best two sides I’ve faced as a manager.
Barcelona’s Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Neymar celebrate with the trophy after winning the UEFA Champions League Final
“That’s why being there, with it in our hands, fighting against them until the end, being seven points behind [as City were in January], is so good. It’s the toughest league I’ve ever played as a manager, for the quality from the rivals. No doubts. That’s why being there is incredible.
“But, of course, only one will take the prize and the other one will be at home sad.
“Last season [when City won 100 points, 19 more than runners-up Man United] was incredible, but this season we fought against an incredible team that has everything — physicality, runs in behind, they’ve improved a lot in the positional game.
“That’s why I’m so delighted after what happened. I didn’t expect to get the points we have this season so far after what we did last season. Normally, the tendency for human beings is to relax a little bit.”
Guardiola admitted he and his players felt the title slipping away in November and December when they were trailing Liverpool and lost successive league games to Crystal Palace and Monday night’s visitors Leicester.
Klopp’s men could have gone 10 points clear of City when the two sides met at the Etihad Stadium on January 3, but a 2-1 home win cut the gap to four and reignited the title race.
“After one of the toughest periods in November and December, we were seven points behind,” said Guardiola. “When we played here in January, if we’d lost it’d would have been 10 points.
“We had that feeling in November and December that they were not going to drop many points. Then you have the feeling, ‘Okay, it’s gone’. But it was completely the opposite.
“I’m so proud of my players and all the club, the organisation, and all the staff. They help us to be there. But we still have two tough games and you have to be focused to do a good game, because I’ve been really impressed with the way Leicester have played.
“We’ll try to win that game and go to Brighton [on the final day, when all games kick off at the same time and Liverpool host Wolves] with it in our hands, with a chance to be champions there.”