(Reuters) – Newcastle United have had some positive results this season under new manager Steve Bruce and have the quality to avoid relegation from the Premier League, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said on Friday.
The Magpies were in danger of the drop last season but climbed out of the relegation zone in the second half of the season to finish 13th under Rafa Benitez, who left the club in the close season.
Despite a lacklustre start to this season under Bruce, Newcastle earned wins over Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United and sit 14th in the standings, five points above the relegation zone.
“It’s tough with a new manager, but they have good results. I think they will stay in the Premier League,” Guardiola told reporters ahead of City’s trip to St James’ Park on Saturday.
“They are physically strong, fast up front. Their structure is quite similar to under Rafa Benitez.”
A 2-1 defeat in the same fixture in January last season nearly ended City’s league title hopes before Guardiola rallied his team to embark on a 14-match winning run to pip Liverpool to the trophy by a single point.
“We forgot to play (last season). We scored a goal and forgot to attack at 1-0,” Guardiola said. “We learned from that, obviously, but we had a bad, bad day.”
City are third in the league — nine points behind leaders Liverpool and a point behind Leicester City — but Guardiola said the title race is not on his mind at this stage of the season.
“I’m not thinking about winning the Premier League right now,” the Spaniard said. “First, we have to get past Leicester, then Liverpool. I know we can’t lose at the moment.”
Guardiola also dodged a question on whether his assistant, Mikel Arteta, is a candidate for the Arsenal job after the London club sacked manager Unai Emery on Friday.
“I’m sorry for him (Emery),” Guardiola said. “Every time a manager is sacked it’s not good news.
“It does not change my opinion of him. He is an incredible professional. I am sure he will find another job soon.”
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by David Goodman)