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Pep Guardiola talks up his City side but admits times have been tough

By Ian Herbert

Enough dust had settled on the chaotic finale to a punishing home defeat at Chelsea's hands for Pep Guardiola to have worked out how to put a gloss on things, and it was quite some sheen that he conjured up.

His Manchester City side had reached the requisite level of football "faster" than either his Bayern Munich players or those at Barcelona, where "we had one player who was amazing and helped us create those steps," he said. The most promising side he's ever taken on, he seemed to be saying.

But Guardiola could only do so much to disguise the fact that this was propaganda. Make no mistake: he was hurting, 48 hours on from the 3-1 defeat which saw Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho dismissed at the end.

The Spaniard was tetchy when he sat down to talk and monosyllabic to begin with.

"Which kind of reflections do you want?" he shot back when asked to discuss Saturday, taking what seemed like an eternity to reply when asked who was responsible for those two red cards.

"The players," he replied.

"But everything that happened? What was trigger?" someone replied.

"The players."

"Just them..?"

"The fans… you… me."

To a substantial degree, the root cause of all the trouble - and the scoreline which left Guardiola throwing the kitchen sink at Antonio Conte's side late on - is the defence. City have lavished more money on defenders these past few years than any other club in world football and yet have kept one clean sheet in 15 games.

He denied this was a problem of course, though in the course of his anatomy of the defeat you could also trace the slightest lines of insecurity about whether his philosophy of attacking in numbers, limiting pragmatism and maintaining that high defensive line will work in the Premier League.

"To (master the ability to) attack with 10 players and not to concede the counter attack, you need time,"Guardiola explained.

His way of approaching the game might remain sacrosanct, but in the make-up of his teams it is evident that he does not know which personnel might best equip him to make a success of things in England.

If the success of Chelsea this season, and Leicester City last, tells us one thing, it is that a side can profit from being settled. While Conte has made eight changes to his Premier League starting line-ups this season, Guardiola has already made 46.

There will be more changes tonight as City face Celtic in a Champions League tie which is a dead rubber, since they cannot overhaul Barcelona as first place qualifiers and the Scots' European adventure is over.

There could be as many as 11 changes from the side which started against Chelsea, though Aguero's suspension until the New Year's Eve match at Liverpool could persuade Guardiola to give him a run rather than rest him.

With Fernandinho banned after picking up a red card in the last Champions League match at Borussia Monchengladbach, the prospects of Fabian Delph playing are substantial.

Raheem Sterling did not even train yesterday so Tosin Adarabioyo plus Spanish defenders Angelino and Pablo Maffeo, could feature.

"After (the wins at) Crystal Palace and Burnley I was a bit worried," he said. "We won but I thought 'if we play like this we are not going to go anywhere'.

"But I know I have to adapt to your football. But I am not good enough to understand the way we have to play in that game … I need time."

Guardiola's sign-off was the day's mantra.

Belfast Telegraph


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