Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has credited Liverpool with bringing the best out of his own team, while also downplaying his contribution to the Premier League champions’ rise as the two rivals prepare go head to head for the title on Super Sunday.
City lead Liverpool by just a point with one game left to play on Sunday afternoon as Guardiola’s side host Aston Villa, while the Reds entertain Wolverhampton Wanderers with the champions needing a win to guarantee retaining the championship.
If City do manage to get over the line at the Etihad, then it will be their fourth title in the space of just five years, a remarkable achievement for Guardiola and his team.
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However, the Catalan was quick to play down his own role in City’s recent Premier League dominance, instead praising his players’ contributions to their success.
"Incredible, top human quality players and persons," said Guardiola in an exclusive interview with Sky Sports’ Patrick Davison ahead of the final day of the Premier League season on Sunday.
"Without that, no tactics, no ideas. Nothing, nothing, top-quality players.
"All the other managers have amazing ideas and tactics. The praise in the football world is so suspicious. Every time you give good praise to me, I do not believe you. Not for one second, I’m so suspicious.
"Behind that is the players, the quality, the talent, the effort. When we are good is when we try to altogether follow one idea, but my ideas are not more special than the other ones.
"I have found a lot of incredibly talented managers in the Championship, or the Premier League who do not have success. Do you know why? They do not have the good players that we have, it is as simple as that."
Guardiola, 51, highlighted his debut campaign at City when his new team won their first six Premier League games of the season, and 10 of their first 11 matches in all competitions, before travelling to Tottenham Hotspur in October 2016.
The visitors saw their winning start to the top-flight season ended with a 2-0 defeat in north London, though, before going on to lose five more times in the league in finishing third in the table, 15 points behind eventual champions Chelsea.
However, the City boss believes that tough first season in England has helped shaped everything else that has happened to the club in the five years since.
"I remember perfectly the season we won the first 10 games and then we went to White Hart Lane to play Mauricio Pochettino’s team, not Harry Kane’s, Mauricio Pochettino’s team, and we lost," he said.
"And I said, ‘Wow, if this team is not considered favourites to win, it was Liverpool, United, Chelsea, Arsenal, whatever, we will struggle, this is tough my friend. This will be tough, it was tough.
"But it was a process, it is a process, so we learned many things, a lot that year with Mikel [Arteta], Rodolfo [Borrell], Domenec [Torrent], I learned a lot, it was incredible, like a master, a lesson, a teacher, it was like going to school a lot.
"And after, of course, the club changed the squad because it was an old team, 11 players over 31, 32 years old. The energy that we have, they didn’t have it.
"It is normal, a question of time, we bring new energy and most of the things that happened in the second season happened through the first.
"Now, I would tell Pep when he arrives, ‘be ready my friend as this is tough, this is tough’."
And having reshaped the City squad with younger, more mobile players, it was then the start of one of the Premier League’s greatest-ever rivalries that really helped push his side on to even greater levels.
"We would not achieve what we have without them [Liverpool]," Guardiola said. "We have our opponent who brings you to the limits, otherwise complacency arrives.
"The players are not stupid, I do not need to tell them how good they are. They play against them and see them on TV and I said, ‘wow, if we want to be there, we have to do it’.
"I think it is quite similar like they should think about us."
What are the final day title race permutations?
Manchester City (90 points) have already won three Premier League titles on the final day of the season – in 2012, 2014 and 2019 – and they could do so again this Sunday. Pep Guardiola’s men lead Liverpool by a solitary point.
So this means:
- Manchester City will win the Premier League if they beat Aston Villa on Sunday – or match Liverpool’s result at home to Wolves.
- Should City draw against Villa, Liverpool will be crowned champions if they beat Wolves.
- Given their inferior goal difference, a draw would only be enough for Liverpool to be champions on Sunday if Manchester City lose by a seven-goal margin to Aston Villa.
An unlikely play-off for the Premier League title is still possible, in the event of both Man City and Liverpool finishing on the same number of points, goal difference, goals scored and goals conceded – with their head-to-head record already level.
For that play-off to happen, Manchester City would need to lose 6-0 at home to Villa, with Liverpool and Wolves drawing 5-5 at Anfield.
Sky Bet odds to win Premier League…