Pep Guardiola fired a barb at the Arsenal hierarchy as the Manchester City manager’s irritation with other Premier League clubs showed little sign of abating.
In the aftermath of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) overturning City’s two-season ban from UEFA competitions last week, Guardiola gave an impassioned address during which he accused other clubs in England’s top-flight of “whispering” about his own.
He specifically took aim at eight Premier League clubs – Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, Leicester, Wolves and Burnley – who are understood to have written to CAS urging a speedy decision so that City’s appeal did not carry over into next season, given the knock-on implications it would have had for anyone aiming to seal European qualification.
City were beaten 2-0 on the field by Arsenal in Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, a triumph masterminded by his former assistant Mikel Arteta that Guardiola was happy to pay due credit to at a news conference to preview Tuesday’s trip to Watford.
However, amid a report by the Daily Mail claiming City believe Arsenal to be the ringleaders among that dissenting group, the former Barcelona boss hinted at a feud that could be set to rumble on behind the scenes.
“I said after Arsenal, we didn’t play first half against Arsenal like the second,” he said, with the Gunners having persuaded Arteta to leave City and succeed Unai Emery last December.
“That was the only regret. We wanted to play 90 minutes like the second half. But after we were beaten, we shake hands.
“The opponents always deserve my respect and credit. And Arsenal I have all the respect for what they are on the pitch – not much off the pitch, but on the pitch a lot. Congratulations to them and good luck in the final.”
City being cleared to compete in the Champions League next season has only accelerated the rumour mill around an expected close-season rebuild, with a substantial gap to Premier League winners Liverpool needing to be bridged.
Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly, Bournemouth defender Nathan Ake and Valencia winger Ferran Torres head the list of those linked with moves to the Etihad Stadium, while Nicolas Otamendi, John Stones and Oleksandr Zinchenko could be among those dispatched to pastures new.
Nevertheless, Guardiola expects the vast majority of his squad to be in situ for next season.
“It depends on the players we’ll have next season, it depends on the way we adapt, the way we attack and defend,” he said when pondering his capacity to refresh when taking charge of a fifth season at the same club for the first time.
“All of us have to freshen up our minds and bodies to continue to be competitive in all the competitions. If you bring in eight or nine players, which is impossible, you change a lot, the mentality, the way you want to play.
“I think 80 or 85 or 90 per cent of the team will be the same, but it depends on the people who are here.”
Those whose futures are in the balance might have matters decided one way or another by City’s Champions League campaign, which resumes on August 7 when Real Madrid visit Manchester aiming to overturn a 2-1 first-leg deficit and reach the quarter-finals in Lisbon.
Following their concluding Premier League game against Norwich City next Sunday, Guardiola will oversee a period of intensive preparation for a season-defining assignment – where a suspension for Los Blancos’ talismanic skipper Sergio Ramos could yet prove key
“We are to going to train in a specific way to play against Real Madrid, we are going to try to maintain our rhythm in our training sessions,” he said.
“We are going to remember what Madrid is, see the games they’ve played after the lockdown. They are going to play without Sergio Ramos, so we are going look at how Eder Militao and [Raphael] Varane joined up in the games they were together.