Pep Guardiola challenges City to roll with punches in summit meeting with Chelsea

first_imgManchester City Sergio Agüero has no need to apologise for car accident, says Pep Guardiola Read more Reuse this content Read more Pep Guardiola Chelsea Share on LinkedIn Early Friday morning and Pep Guardiola is receiving a second piece of terrible team news before Manchester City’s pivotal trip to Chelsea for Saturday’s late match.Sergio Agüero, who has scored seven goals in eight appearances, has been injured in a car accident in Amsterdam and is ruled out of the game with a broken rib. Twenty-four hours earlier the left-back Benjamin Mendy, the £52m summer signing whose attacking flair has injected pace and potency into City, was diagnosed with a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament, making him unavailable until most likely April.City have made a flying start to the campaign, winning eight of their nine games. They are Premier League leaders and top their Champions League group. Yet as Guardiola bills the fixture with Chelsea as key to City’s title aspirations, the Agüero-Mendy double whammy could not arrive at a worse time. Topics The manager’s hope is that his side can be inspired by the setback and help his quest to make City as powerful as Bayern Munich and Barcelona, the two teams he previously managed.“We want to become a big club. I’ve been at two amazing clubs in my life and you have to overcome this situation,” he says. “If we start to complain we’ll never reach the step we want to take. I prefer to play with men who are strong. I’d like to play with Sergio because we are strong with him. But he’s not there, no complaints. We’ll go there and play the way we’d have done it with Sergio, [Vincent] Kompany [also out], Mendy. We have to overcome these situations if you want to become a team that others consider big and say it doesn’t matter what happens.“The big clubs do it. They overcome the difficult situations. We’ve broken two pieces [in Agüero and Mendy], it’s how do we react. It’s always difficult at Stamford Bridge, the last champions of the Premier League, always complicated. If people are saying we can’t do it now, then we’ll never reach what we want in the next five or six years.”Gabriel Jesus’s form has been as excellent as that of Agüero, the Brazilian registering five times in eight appearances. Given this and how Guardiola dropped the Argentinian for Jesus last season, it suggests the loss of Agüero may not be as crucial as that of Mendy.Before the injury the Frenchman had featured in five of the eight victories and given City an extra dimension, his strong personality also bolstering team spirit. Guardiola believes Mendy is unique and that he will have to tinker with City’s approach at Stamford Bridge.“We can’t replace him – in the way he plays, the way he goes up and down, you can’t,” says the head coach. “We have to do it in a different way. Nobody in the world has his energy, his mood on the pitch, in the locker room. But we have other qualities in other players and we have to find a balance.”Guardiola is conscious how last year’s first meeting with Antonio Conte’s side proved season-defining. Rewind to last December and he was left a deeply frustrated manager at the final whistle at the Etihad Stadium. The 46-year-old had witnessed City losing 3-1 and Agüero and Fernandinho being sent off in an angry end to the defeat.Guardiola could not believe how City allowed a contest they dominated to slip away. Later he described it as a “pity” and apologised for the red cards but the unpalatable truth was that Conte’s men handed his side a lesson in how to seize the moment and the points. Despite pinning Chelsea back throughout City spurned several chances with the usually cool-eyed Kevin De Bruyne a chief culprit. Instead two break-away strikes from Willian and Eden Hazard were decisive and Chelsea returned home jubilant.City had entered the contest only a point behind Chelsea but the defeat precipitated a dreadful December. They went down in their next league outing, 4-2 at Leicester City, and then again on New Year’s Eve, 1-0 at Liverpool. It left City entering January trailing Chelsea by 10 points and their championship aspirations all but over.“That was a key point,” reflects Guardiola. “We went four points behind Chelsea and a lot of things happened. Fernandinho sent off, Agüero was punished and we lost him. We dropped a lot of points. It was a big point in the season. A lot of things affected the future. We didn’t overcome it at that moment. It was a good moment to see if we were able. But that was last season.”Guardiola knows that, if the result can be reversed in west London on Saturday then City will take charge of their destiny in the same way Chelsea did 10 months ago.“Hopefully we can learn. We’re in September, people say we’re in a perfect condition, in the Premier League and Champions League, but it’s September. I want to see how we react,” he says.“I admire many things about what Chelsea do, the manager, the way they play. They can play amazing counterattack, set pieces, they defend deep then attack. They control all the aspects of football. That’s why they won the Premier League. They were able to win three days ago in one of the toughest stadiums in the world [at Atlético Madrid]. Especially what I like the most is they don’t create a lot of chances.“They shoot four times and score four goals against Tottenham [in the FA Cup semi-final last season]. When this happens it means a lot; it’s a top team. They have that ability. They are killers when they have one chance, one goal. That’s why they’re a good team.”Guardiola’s point about Chelsea’s counterattack is pertinent given how Willian and Hazard breached City this way last year. Following a serious injury Hazard turned in a dazzling display in Chelsea’s 2-1 win over Atlético. His understanding with Álvaro Morata led to the latter’s opener, and of the No9 Guardiola says: “He is similar to [Diego] Costa, very good at set pieces, technically a fantastic player.”center_img Share on Messenger features Mendy’s loss is compounded by that of Kompany, whose continued absence with a calf problem means Guardiola has only John Stones and Nicolás Otamendi as front-line central defenders. Before Sadio Mané was sent off for Liverpool in City’s 5-0 win at the Etihad earlier this month Otamendi was shown to be vulnerable to pace by the visitors’ Mohamed Salah.As Guardiola states, City will adopt a different style against Chelsea because of Mendy’s unavailability. Last year he matched up to Conte with three centre-backs and Jesús Navas and Leroy Sané as wing-backs. This time Kyle Walker will operate on the right and Danilo may be preferred on the other side to Fabian Delph, a midfielder by trade but who has recently played at left-back.What is clear is the test Guardiola faces. It is precisely the kind he was employed for and there can be no argument the hierarchy have not backed him, after a £227m summer investment.Beat Chelsea and self-belief will be sky-high and Guardiola’s man-management in a difficult week should be lauded. Lose and questions will be asked of him as to whether City really are any different from last season’s vintage whose resolve was found wanting when needed most. Share on Facebook Share on WhatsApp Share on Pinterest Share on Twitter Share via Email The Recap: sign up for the best of the Guardian’s sport coveragelast_img read more