“Just another game” – Guardiola plays down stakes of Man City’s title-deciding clash with Villa
Guardiola’s seemingly cavalier attitude towards this high-stakes match might seem like an attempt at mind games, but it could also very well hold some truth, given that the Spaniard must be bored to tears at winning the English Premier League (EPL) title by now.
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After all, if City do manage to beat Villa at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, they will win their fourth EPL title in just five years. On the other hand, the one trophy that Guardiola and City truly covets – the Champions League – continues to avoid showing up at their stadium, just like their fans.
Nonetheless, City winning the EPL title will at least provide some comfort to their neighbours, who have spent the last week or so praying to every God, demon, and referee they know that Liverpool do not win the quadruple this season.
For Guardiola, however, it will just be business as usual, as he explained in his pre-match press conference: “I've said to our players, it's just a football game. Don't think about how happy or sad we'd be, just focus on what we have to do to beat Aston Villa. Having one more title, or one less one, that's important but it's just a football game.
“Focus on will they play [Ollie] Watkins or [Danny] Ings or just Watkins. Douglas Luiz as a holding midfielder as a three or four [midfielders]? Is John McGinn moving inside or outside? Will they play [Phillipe] Coutinho and [Emiliano] Buendia together? This is what we have to do to win the game.”
“I have a feeling we will do things incredibly well. We have not been here many times in our history but we have to be anxious or nervous? No way. Just try to enjoy and suffer the moment."
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City are currently one point ahead of Liverpool – who take on Wolves – and will win the EPL title as long as they match or better the Reds’ result.
While the ball if very much in City’s court, the fact that Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard will be eager to make amends for that slip if he manages to guide Villa to a draw or win over Guardiola’s side means the Manchester outfit can ill-afford to take it easy.
That is why Guardiola has warned his players to prepare themselves for what he believes will be a tough, emotionally-charged encounter.
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“It's difficult to control your emotion. They are human beings and there's an anxiety of what happens if they [Villa] score,” said Guardiola. “Maybe you have to live with something that's uncomfortable but we have to react as well as possible.
“In football, it's not over until it's over. Don't give up and do what you've done in the last month and go for it. What we plan is just a football game, nothing differently.
“We won't do something new, everybody will be at home before the game with the families. We prepare the game to win against Aston Villa, and we will go to the plan to try to beat Aston Villa. No more than that. We can make theories, but it's just a football game with 11 players and a good manager who will try to beat us.”