Pep Guardiola dismisses Jurgen Klopp’s argument that Manchester City have no weaknesses

Klopp has got involved in some mind games with his City counterpart as the busy festive schedule approaches. (AFP)
Updated 21 December 2018

Pep Guardiola dismisses Jurgen Klopp’s argument that Manchester City have no weaknesses

  • Klopp piles pressure on City saying they are the best side in the Premier League.
  • Guardiola, though, says his team are fallible and can point to the fact that they lost their season’s unbeaten league record at Chelsea this month as proof.

MANCHESTER: Pep Guardiola has dismissed Jurgen Klopp’s suggestion that Manchester City are a team with no sign of weakness as the two battle for the Premier League title.
Guardiola’s City and Klopp’s Liverpool appear increasingly to be the two main contenders in the title race, as the season approaches its halfway point.
With few slip-ups from either side, their meeting at the Etihad Stadium on Jan. 3 looks a potentially significant moment in the battle for first place — a position held by unbeaten Liverpool going into the weekend’s fixtures.
Yet Klopp claimed this week that the only team that can stop Guardiola’s men from defending their title are City themselves.
Guardiola, though, says his team are fallible and can point to the fact that they lost their season’s unbeaten league record at Chelsea this month as proof.
“Any team has strong points and weak points,” said the City manager. “Of course we have weaknesses. We are working on it, but that’s normal. These kind of comments have to be put in perspective.”
Guardiola’s side, who are at home to Crystal Palace on Saturday, were a point off the top of the table before Liverpool went to Wolverhampton Wanderers on Friday.
Palace are 15th in the Premier League and have collected just one point from their past six away matches. Yet they have started to climb away from the relegation zone after home wins over Burnley and Leicester.
Palace have lost on all their seven visits to the Etihad and have suffered defeat in each of their past nine away games against City, a run going back to the days of Maine Road.
Palace, though, did end City’s run of 18 consecutive league wins on Dec. 31 last season with a 0-0 draw at Selhurst Park, and might have won had goalkeeper Ederson not saved an injury-time penalty from Luka Milivojevic.
Roy Hodgson’s side deserved he goalless draw they earned on their previous visit to Manchester, against United at Old Trafford on November 24, and Guardiola is wary of players such as Wilfried Zaha, Max Meyer, Andros Townsend and Milivojevic.
“They have quality players in Zaha, Townsend, Meyer, Milivojevic,” he said. “They have an incredible experienced manager. I saw the game against Chelsea (on Nov. 4, when Palace lost 3-1), and it was so difficult to attack them.
“After winning 18 games in a row, you have to draw once eventually, that’s normal. We played decent in the first half that day. But in the second half they were much better and missed a penalty.
“Palace bring worries because of the qualities they have. They know what they have to do. Maybe people expect better results from them than they got but in every game they have more chances.
“Winning against them is complicated, and tomorrow it will happen like this (and be difficult for us) if we are not completely focused.”
Playmaker David Silva is back in training as he recovers from the hamstring injury he suffered against Chelsea but will not be available to face Palace.
Center-back Vincent Kompany will be absent with a muscular problem but Kevin De Bruyne could make his first league start of the season, having played and scored in Wednesday’s League Cup win at Leicester after recovering from two knee injuries.
Sergio Aguero, who started the Leicester match after coming back from a groin problem, will compete for a place in attack with Gabriel Jesus.


Al Muwallad penalty gives nervous Al-Ittihad narrow win in fight against relegation

Updated 16 min 55 sec ago

Al Muwallad penalty gives nervous Al-Ittihad narrow win in fight against relegation

After losing two matches in a week in the Saudi Professional League (SPL) restart, Al-Ittihad finally gave their fans reason to smile on Friday with a 1-0 win over Al-Ettifaq at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah.

The struggling giants started the day in 13th place, just one point and one position above Al-Fateh in the last of the relegation places. The messages coming out of the club were of six cup finals; six matches to escape the ignominy of dropping out of the top flight, or a potential play-off to ensure survival.

By the time Al-Ittihad’s under-pressure players took to the field against Al-Ettifaq, they would have known that — thanks to a 2-1 win over Abha Club earlier — Al-Fateh had indeed overtaken them in the race for survival. Al-Ittihad would be kicking off their 25th match of the season in the relegation zone.

In a first half strewn with errors, a nervous Al-Ittihad not surprisingly lacked cohesion and confidence, and coach Fabio Carille’s decision to start Brazilian playmaker Romarinho nominally on the left side of midfield seemed to unbalance the team. Still, despite some promising attacks, especially down the wings, Al-Ettifaq were unable to take advantage of their opponent’s uncertainty.

The Al-Ittihad giants struggled throughout the game, but finally managed to give their fans reason to smile with a 1-0 win. (SPA)

Five minutes into the second half Al-Ittihad got the break they so desperately needed when Ettifaq midfielder Ibrahim Mahnashi  clipped Saud Abdulhamid in the penalty area, and after consulting VAR, the referee correctly awarded a penalty. Saudi International player Fahad Al-Muwallad made no mistake from the spot, firmly placing the ball to the right of Raïs M’Bolhi.

Al-Ittihad failed to capitalize on the advantage and, despite having to endure a few close calls as six extra minutes were added, held out for a narrow 1-0 win and three priceless points.

At the final whistle, Al-Ittihad’s exhausted players sank to their knees, a reaction more at place at the end of cup final than a traditionally routine win that saw them leapfrog Al-Fateh and Al-Hazem into 12th place.

“This was an important win for us, mentally we needed this win,” match-winner Al-Muwallad said. “But I have to say that despite the win we didn’t perform to our best. We fell short in certain parts, but thankfully we got the most important thing which is the three points. I hope this will help our morale ahead of the match against Al-Faisaly.”

Al-Muwallad remains concerned at the number of mistakes Al-Ittihad continued to make after taking the lead.

The Al-Ittihad giants struggled throughout the game, but finally managed to give their fans reason to smile with a 1-0 win. (SPA)

“If you watched the last two matches you’d see that it was individual mistakes which led to two defeats,” he said. “Today we managed to fix some of those problems. But not all of them, we still made mistakes and as I said we didn’t play to the level that Al-Ittihad fans expect from us, despite the presence of a very good group of players. This win should make us more relaxed in the coming games.”

“After the goal we retreated somewhat, we tried to finish the game with our counterattacks but couldn’t,” Al-Muwallad added. “Thankfully we still got the win. We will take it one match at a time, now we should forget this match and start thinking about the match against Al-Faisaly.”

Abdulaziz Al-Bishi, playing his first match for Al-Ittihad since the SPL’s restart revealed that it was hard to take advantage of the extra space that started to appear after Al Muwallad’s goal.

“The weather didn’t help, and coming back from the break maybe some of the players found it hard out there,” he said. “But this should help us in the coming matches, and we can add more points add climb up the league table.”

Al-Ettifaq defender Saleh al Qumaizi was disappointed his team’s performance did not result in at least a point.

“I think we played a big match, we controlled the majority of the play, and we gave everything we had,” he said. “We made some mistakes, and they scored from one of them. We have many key players on the left, right and down the middle. I think today we concentrated mostly on the left and a little on the right channels, but it wasn’t to be.”

In the day’s other early matches, Al-Fayha and Al-Shabab played out a 1-1 draw at Al Majmaa Sports City, while two goals in the last 13 minutes helped Al Raed beat relegation-threatened Al Hazem 3-1 to stay in fifth place.