Pep Guardiola says Manchester City proved against Newcastle United that their title charge will not be derailed by complacency as they bounced back to winning ways following defeat against Liverpool.
Guardiola had said beforehand it was important that his players responded well and he feels the performance at the Etihad Stadium, which maintained a 12-point lead at the top, showed their character.
“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have to do,” said the manager.
“Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.
“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.
Nerves? What nerves?
Pep was delighted with the team’s resilience today.
— Manchester City (@ManCity) January 20, 2018
“Even with 12 points it is important to see the personality, the team and try to do the things with no mistakes. Never did I not see it this season and that is why I am so proud to be their manager.”
City have earned plenty of plaudits as they have dominated the Premier League this season.
But Guardiola, whose side are also still challenging in three other competitions, does not want to reflect on that yet and wants his players to focus only the games ahead.
He said: “I said to them until fixture 24 we were the best team but that doesn’t count. It counts after fixture 38.
“Still we have 14 and to win 10 or 11 games will be tough. Every team will play for something, to stay (up), for Europa League, Champions League and will be focused.
“I said, ‘don’t look back, look at what we have to achieve,’ because if you try to (look at) what happened behind, that is not a good solution from my experience.”
United are yet to concede a goal in 2018 and have gone 504 minutes since their defence was last breached, when Burnley midfielder Steven Defour’s free-kick beat David de Gea on Boxing Day.
Along with Chelsea, United have the stingiest defence in the division – each have conceded just 16 goals – and Smalling credited Mourinho’s work in forming that solid base following the 1-0 win over the Clarets on Saturday.
“I think we’re well drilled,” he said. “Even last year I don’t think we conceded many goals. It’s good that as a team we can shut up shop and not give the other team too many chances, knowing that more often than not we’re going to go up the other end and score because certain teams can only keep us out for so long.”
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 22, 2018
Smalling has started the past two games at the heart of the defence with Phil Jones in a centre-back partnership which has not always been available to United’s managers due to injuries to both men.
Mourinho’s side, in second place, temporarily reduced City’s lead at the top to nine points before Pep Guardiola’s men re-established a 12-point cushion by beating Newcastle United.
Smalling is retaining hope City can still be caught and knows United have to amp up the pressure if they are playing before their rivals as they did on Saturday.
“We’ve all been there where leads have dwindled and teams have been caught but we can only focus on ourselves,” he added.
“There is still a big points gap and we just need to make sure we win our games because if we don’t then there’s no point even talking about it.”
Mauricio Pochettino admits Tottenham’s players were hit by a virus last week but insisted that was no excuse for their sloppy display against Southampton.
Christian Eriksen was a surprise absentee from the Spurs squad as he and Hugo Lloris were both struck down by illness and unable to travel to the south coast.
Harry Kane cancelled out Davinson Sanchez’s own-goal but a below-par Tottenham were held to a 1-1 draw and missed the chance to move into the Premier League’s top four.
They will fall five points behind Liverpool if Jurgen Klopp’s men beat Swansea on Monday.
Pochetttino, who took his team on a warm-weather training camp to Barcelona last week, would not name the players affected by illness as he maintained they had all recovered.
“A few players were affected last week but it’s not an excuse,” Pochettino said.
“We are disappointed because our game wasn’t great, our performance wasn’t the best. The game was even and full credit to Southampton because they fight and play well.
“I think it is a fair result in the end, 1-1. There were massive chances we had in the last minute with Harry Kane but at the end if you analyse the game, it’s a fair result.”
Pochettino also referenced the bobbling pitch at St Mary’s, which contributed to an attritional match, full of loose touches and misplaced passes.
Spurs now find themselves in danger of losing touch with the Champions League spots, ahead of three crunch league games against Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal.
“Of course they will be important for us,” Pochettino said.
“It is important if we are going to take points and win the games, be sure that we are going to fight and if not, it will be difficult.”
Pochettino refused to be drawn on more reports linking Kane with a move to Real Madrid and also played down the club’s chances of making new signings this month.
“The other clubs find a way to sign players that can improve and help their team and squads,” Pochettino said.
“Nothing to say but for us it is difficult and will be difficult for different reasons. It is obvious.”
For Southampton, who stay 18th, this was a point gained in their fight to avoid relegation and in particular for their under-fire manager Mauricio Pellegrino.
Marco Silva’s availability after being sacked by Watford threatened to pile more pressure on Pellegrino but there was enough in this gutsy display to suggest a revival may still be within reach.
“They don’t fight just for me,” Pellegrino said.
“They fight for themselves. They fight for the club.”
Pellegrino was also optimistic when asked about the prospect of Southampton adding new players before the end of the transfer window.
“Hopefully next week will be a good week for us,” Pellegrino said.
“But in the market everything can change in one second. It is football. Negotiation is about two sides.”