By Simon Evans
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola hailed his team for the way they have responded to the bitter blow of exiting from the Champions League with two crucial victories in their title bid.
City went out of the European competition on away goals to Tottenham Hotspur in dramatic fashion last week but dusted themselves off to beat Spurs in the Premier League on Saturday before Wednesday’s 2-0 Manchester derby win over rivals United sent them top of the league, one point ahead of Liverpool with three matches left.
“That is the most incredible detail for these players. You cannot imagine how tough it was to go out of this beautiful (Champions League) competition when we felt it was there, it was really, really tough,” Guardiola said.
“We had Tottenham at home, it wasn’t the best performance, but we had the sunshine, to stay alive in the Premier League… the pressure we had and the way we reacted. That is sometimes more important.
“Then we come here, our neighbours, the most prestigious team in England… winning with the pressure we had and being there, it was fantastic,” the Spaniard added.
The win over United was the 11th straight in the league for City as they follow-up last season’s record-breaking title win with another campaign of extraordinary quality and consistency.
“They (the players) have my incredible respect. It’s massive what they’ve done this season. It’s incredible the mentality and the strength, doing what we have to do. Man City has to be so, so proud of these players,” said the former Barcelona boss.
“We can go with our heads up everywhere, that’s why our fans were great in the Champions League against Tottenham in defeat, then three days later they support us more than they did in the Champions League, that’s because they know we don’t lie, we’re honest in the way we play.”
As a remarkable Premier League title race heads into the final three games, with City enjoying a one point lead over Liverpool, who have lost just once this season, Guardiola said both teams would be worthy champions.
“Both teams deserve the title. But it can be just one. The team that is going to lose can’t have regrets because they have given everything,” he said.
City’s next task is an away game at Burnley on Sunday and Guardiola said that meant there was no time for celebration of the derby win.
“Normally with this kind of victory you can enjoy it the most but we have to be calm,” he said.
“I’ve told the players to rest tomorrow, relax, don’t talk too much, don’t watch TV, just eat well and get plenty of sleep because on Sunday we have another difficult game.”
(Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Pritha Sarkar)