Kyle Walker has urged Manchester City to create something special under Pep Guardiola and achieve even greater success than the manager’s former club Barcelona.
City lead the Premier League by eight points from Manchester United after 11 matches and their flying start and style of play have led to comparisons with Guardiola’s Barça. The Catalan took charge at the Camp Nou in 2008 and in four years led them to win the Champions League twice, La Liga three times, the Copa del Rey twice, and also double successes in the Uefa Super Cup and Fifa Club World Cup.
Walker, asked about comparisons between City and Guardiola’s Barcelona, said: “It’s a lovely compliment because what a team that was. If we can come close to what they achieved in his reign there at Barcelona it’ll be fantastic.
“But let’s not just settle for that, let’s go above that if we can because we’ve got the players to do it, got the manager and hopefully we can merge everything together and come up with something special.”
Guardiola is certainly not getting carried away and insists there is still room for improvement. Already on a record-breaking run of wins the City manager has claimed he is not interested in setting benchmarks for posterity, just getting better week on week. “I’m not here to break records, I’m not bothered about being magnificent, I’m about trying to make the team better than it was yesterday,” Guardiola said. “We are playing well, and I am very happy with results, but a team can always get better and there are still things we can improve.”
Guardiola makes a point of going through each game with the team, even after convincing wins, highlighting individual mistakes and areas where different options might have been preferable.
“It helps keep the players motivated and guards against complacency,” he explained. “We analyse all the games and point out all the mistakes, so that players know they can always do better. That is important, because the moment we start to believe we can’t get any better is the moment we crash. I’m not looking for perfection – that is impossible in a football match – but there is always something worth looking at. We still miss a few easy balls, for instance, and we don’t always finish our counterattacking actions. When you look closely at each match you can always see some situations we could have controlled better, and reviewing our performances each week gives us something to aim for.”
The league leaders are at Leicester City on Saturday afternoon, when Guardiola will be looking for a significant improvement on the 4-2 defeat almost a year ago. That was one of the better performances in the Foxes’ troubled title defence and it coincided with one of Manchester City’s worst. Guardiola admits it was one of the lowest points of his first season in England.
“It was one of the worst days, yes,” he said. “The way Leicester play is so complicated, and in that game they played the way they did when they were champions. Every mistake we made was punished, they were so quick on the break and decisive in their finishing.”
Claudio Ranieri was still in charge of Leicester last December, Claude Puel has succeeded Craig Shakespeare since, but Guardiola is still wary of the threat posed by Jamie Vardy, Shinji Okazaki and others. “I don’t think the new manager will have had much time to adjust to his team, he has only been there a couple of weeks and many of his players will have been away in that period,” Guardiola said. “But as far as I am concerned Leicester still have a lot of talented players. It is one of the toughest fixtures we face, especially after an international break.”
Guardiola was able to confirm Sergio Agüero is back in full training and available for selection after his fainting episode with Argentina. “He’s perfect, there’s nothing to worry about,” he said and is also confident Raheem Sterling is overcoming the back problem that troubled him in recent games against Napoli and Arsenal and saw him pull out of the England squad as a precaution, though he is less sure about Fabian Delph, who has yet to return to full training following a calf strain. With Nicolás Otamendi suspended Guardiola will have to make changes in his backline anyway, with Eliaquim Mangala a possible option at centre-half.