Pep Guardiola: Man City boss expects Premier League top-four battle

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Champions League qualification harder in England – Guardiola

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola believes the race to finish in the Premier League’s top four will go to the last day of the season.

City moved above Liverpool and into third place on goal difference thanks to Saturday’s 5-0 win over Crystal Palace.

Manchester United and Arsenal, who are fifth and sixth, meet on Sunday.

“There are four amazing teams fighting for the last two Champions League places,” the Catalan boss said.

“It will be a big, big battle until the last game.

“Hopefully United can focus on the Europa League and forget a little bit about the Premier League and then next season we can have five English teams in the Champions League, which would be amazing,” he added.

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United will qualify for next season’s Champions League if they win the Europa League, giving the Premier League an extra spot in the competition. Jose Mourinho’s men lead Celta Vigo 1-0 from the first leg of their semi-final.

Although City can still mathematically catch second-placed Tottenham, this season will almost certainly be the first in Guardiola’s managerial career where he has not achieved at least a top-two finish.

His Barcelona side finished runners-up to Real Madrid in La Liga in 2012, but he won the title in his other three seasons there – while his Bayern Munich team were Bundesliga champions in each of the three years he was in charge.

“There is not another competition in the world with six strong teams fighting for one position – not in Spain nor Germany,” Guardiola added.

“It is so clear that here, every season will be tougher and tougher to qualify for the Champions League.

“It is important to be in it for many reasons, to grow and to enjoy the big moments. We have got three games left and it is in our hands.”

Are City the league’s best creators?

While City are only third in the league table, Guardiola is adamant they are the top team when it comes to their creative play – it is just their finishing that lets them down.

When asked about his side’s inconsistency in attack after their crushing win over the Eagles, he replied: “I can only remember one game where the opponents created more chances than us – at White Hart Lane against Tottenham.

“The other ones? No chance.

“So we are better than all the teams in the Premier League, home and away, even the next champions Chelsea – we created more chances against them at home and at Stamford Bridge.

“In the boxes, though, we are not so good. Vincent Kompany’s return has helped us, just with his presence, to be better in our own box.

“But we are the best team in the Premier League at creating clear, clear chances in front of goal – nobody can beat us at that.”

Guardiola’s stats are correct – Spurs had 13 shots to City’s 12 when they lost at White Hart Lane in October.

Liverpool had the same number of shots as City when they drew at the Etihad Stadium in March but in City’s other 33 league games under Guardiola, they have had more shots than the opposition.

And, although Spurs (460) and Liverpool (452) have had more chances, or shots at goal, in total than City this season (445), when it comes to what statisticians Opta call ‘big chances’ [defined as a situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score, usually in a one-on-one situation or from very close range], City are out in front with 67.

Guardiola has got used to seeing his side waste those sort of openings, and thought they would be punished again against Palace before their second-half goal glut.

“Believe me, if we had arrived in the last 20 minutes against Palace at 1-0, we do not win the game,” he explained.

“I said to the players at half-time, either score another goal or forget about it, we are not able to win.

“It has happened a lot this season – I remember some similar performances against other teams, but against Palace we scored the goals, and on other days we were not able to do that.”

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City put 12 of their 26 shots on target against Palace, scoring with five of them (as shown by the five yellow dots on this graphic)

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