By Ian Chadband
LONDON (Reuters) – Pep Guardiola hopes to end the year with another illustration of his Manchester City aristocrats at their irresistible best. Just don’t ask him to talk about their record-shredding.
“Always here, you talk about the numbers and the records but that’s just a consequence of what we’re doing on the pitch,” sighed Guardiola on Friday, when asked about the prospect of his side ending 2017 with another remarkable landmark.
For if City win at Crystal Palace in Sunday’s New Year’s Eve fixture, it would be their 19th Premier League win in a row, matching the all-time record victory sequence in any of the top five European leagues, set by Bayern Munich in 2013-14.
Of course, as the man who also oversaw that Munich run, that would just be another measure of Guardiola’s rare quality of fashioning not just winning machines, but attractive winning machines.
For it’s the way they are creating their milestones, not the records themselves, that appears to most energise the Spanish perfectionist.
“The record’s not what counts; what counts is what we have to do against Crystal Palace and their four amazing strikers,” said Guardiola.
“I’m really impressed. Sooner or later, we are going to drop points and we have to see how we react in that moment.”
Still, that idea of them dropping points feels increasingly fanciful and if they win on Sunday, they will enter 2018 with a points lead of at least 15 — a number that might even interest Guardiola.
One thing seems certain. Palace will not go into the match as tamely as Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle United on Wednesday when they lost only 1-0 thanks to City’s generous Yuletide profligacy.
Palace, in contrast, had a go at Arsenal before going down 3-2, thanks largely to Alexis Sanchez’s double.
Arsene Wenger, who praised his unsettled Chilean striker’s commitment, will be looking for more of the same on Sunday as the Gunners seek to mark the Frenchman’s record 811th Premier League match in charge — topping Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United record — with a win at struggling West Bromwich Albion.
City’s nearest challengers, neighbours Manchester United, need a morale-boost after a stuttering end to the year which saw them knocked out of the League Cup by second-tier Bristol City followed by two draws against Leicester City and Burnley.
That also led to some familiar diversion tactics from manager Jose Mourinho, who chose to pick that moment to bemoan how United were under-funded in comparison to City.
Still, the man who has spent around 300 million pounds ($405.6 million) on new players in 18 months may just have enough firepower to dispose of Southampton on Saturday, even if he says he cannot afford to give a rest to Romelu Lukaku, who has scored only four goals in his last 19 United games.
Southampton finally completed their own mega-deal with Liverpool on Wednesday to offload their in-demand centre-back Virgil van Dijk, with the 75 million pound price tag now making the Dutchman the world’s most expensive defender.
Before the Kop sees if ‘Van the man’ can live up to his remarkable fee in the New Year, Liverpool will be focussed again on their attacking ‘Fab Four’ as they host Leicester at Anfield on Saturday.
Liverpool should add to their 75 goals in all competitions this season — only Paris St Germain (89) and Manchester City (77) have scored more — as they seek to make it their best run under Juergen Klopp by going 12 league matches undefeated.
Champions Chelsea, who lie third a point behind Man United, should make life more uncomfortable for one of their old boys, Stoke City manager Mark Hughes, by skewering an injury-hit defence, which is already the leakiest in the league.
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(Reporting by Ian Chadband; Editing by Christian Radnedge)