Guardiola does the maths as City begin countdown to glory
Manchester City need 10 victories to reach 95 points and be champions, says manager
Manchester City’s Sergio Agüero scores the opening goal past Newcastle’s Karl Darlow at Etihad Stadium on Saturday. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images
Pep Guardiola can seem to concentrate more on the aesthetics than statistics. While he has assessed formidable figures in his managerial career, they appear a byproduct of excellence but, after disposing of Newcastle, a footballing philosopher turned his attention to maths.
“We need mathematically 10 victories to be champions,” the Manchester City manager said, raising the question of the equation for the first time. Ten victories will take City to 95 points, equalling Chelsea’s Premier League record. It is the highest total Manchester United can reach and City’s goal difference is 19 better. This, even if Guardiola did not use the phrase, is his countdown to glory.
His side’s lead, which had stretched to 15 points, was trimmed to nine for a couple of hours. Victory, and a riposte to defeat by Liverpool at Anfield, has restored it to 12. The visitors’ identity had a pertinence after Guardiola was given a crash course in title-race history.
“I read Newcastle dropped a 12-point advantage years ago and United won the league,” he said. “Two months ago, I listen that the Premier League is done. I can imagine if we drop points and are nine or 10 points in front of United the people start [to question City], so it was so important to see the personality of the team.”
Guardiola’s team have already surpassed the 66 goals Newcastle amassed in 1995-96. If Kevin Keegan’s side were reeled in while peeking anxiously over their shoulders, Guardiola plans to ignore the chasing pack.
“I said to the players: ‘Don’t look back. Don’t look at our contenders behind. Look at what we have to achieve.’ Until fixture 24, we were the best team. But that doesn’t count. It counts after fixture 38. Still we have 14 [to go] and it will be tough to win 10 or 11 games.”
It may be rendered more difficult by opponents’ obstructionist ploys. For the second time in four weeks, Newcastle’s tactics consisted of a bus-parking exercise. “For me, the most difficult thing is attacking 10 players in the box because there is no space,” Guardiola said. Sergio Agüero found some anyway, scoring an 11th City hat trick. “When opponents pose you that kind of problem, it is how you solve them,” his manager said. “We are learning attacking in that way.”
City’s answers also incorporated a precise Kevin De Bruyne cross for Agüero’s opener and bursts of direct dribbling from Raheem Sterling, who won the penalty for the Argentinian’s second, and Leroy Sané, who set up the third, committing four players in a demonstration of pace and balance that the watching Frank Lampard compared to Ryan Giggs. “He made an amazing action,” Guardiola said. “But I don’t want to tell him very nice words because I have a feeling he has a lot of things to improve.”
City’s development will be ratified if they are crowned champions. If history is repeating itself, and a manager who has won the Spanish and German leagues seems set to follow suit in England, Newcastle’s approach felt a familiar backhanded compliment.
“It happened all my career as a manager at Barcelona and in the last period in Munich as well. Most of the teams defend like this,” Guardiola said. A corner count of 18-0 in City’s favour offered an indication of the respective sides’ attacking intent, but, rather than being defensive about his team’s defensiveness, Rafael Benítez went on the offensive.
“Who has the record for scoring the most goals in the Champions League? Me, with Liverpool and Real Madrid, ” the Newcastle manager said, citing 8-0 defeats of Besiktas and Malmö. “At Real Madrid, we scored 10 against Rayo Vallecano. When we can attack, we attack.”
Wealth and talent
His conclusion is he cannot attack because of a concentration of wealth and talent at the top. “It is not the Premier League of two years ago, it is the Premier League now. The teams at the top are spending more money. They have the best players.”
That process has been accelerated during his time in management. “I think the gap is bigger now. My first time with Extremadura was against Barcelona and we lost 1-0. But we were 4-4-2 and organised, and pressing high. Yes, the difference between us was massive, but now you can see against these teams that even if you play a good game you can concede four goals and lose. You have to find the right balance and not be embarrassed.”
Newcastle, playing 5-4-1, were heavily weighted towards defence. Yet, as the scoreline showed, they were not embarrassed, despite finishing with 11 players who lined up in the Championship last season.
Additions are required urgently. Names of targets have been presented to the owner, Mike Ashley. This, Benítez feels, is a particularly important week if Newcastle are not to go down for the second time in three seasons. He can remember a time when divisions were more competitive.
Benítez’s Valencia won La Liga with 75 points. Now City are on course to record 107. But, as Guardiola has calculated, 95 and a superior goal difference will suffice. – Guardian