Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola believes their 3-1 victory in a “massive” game at Everton will serve as a reminder to their rivals not to write them off.
City arrived back from Saudi Arabia as Club World Cup winners looking to correct a record which had seen them win just once in six Premier League matches and drop off the pace in the title race.
But while they were away, results went in their favour which meant winning their two matches in hand on Liverpool would reduce the deficit at the top to just two points, and the first of those was achieved after they recovered from former winger Jack Harrison’s opener with goals from Phil Foden, Julian Alvarez – from the penalty spot – and Bernardo Silva.
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“Really, really important. It was a massive game for us, coming from Saudi Arabia,” said Guardiola.
“We were really pleased with how we reacted and it proved again how special this group of players is and the mentality that we have in our bones.
“We want to be there. I know we are not top of the league, (but) a lot of things are going to happen.
“I never saw a Premier League where every game the teams down low and mid-table can beat everyone. There will be a lot of surprises and the thing is to be there.”
— Premier League (@premierleague) December 27, 2023
Guardiola said the Club World Cup was not only a distraction, but also helped refocus the players’ minds.
“I remember on the plane coming back from Saudi Arabia I listened to the players when they didn’t know I was listening and they started to talk about Everton,” he added.
“I said ‘wow, this is my team’. I have the feeling they still want to try.
“We play many games this season and people say we are not the same. We have lost one of the last 13 (not including the Club World Cup). We don’t talk enough about how good we are.”
The only downside to the game was an ankle problem for John Stones, who left the stadium wearing a protective boot, on only his fifth Premier League start of a season already significantly affected by injury.
“Hopefully the damage isn’t big and he can come back soon,” said the City boss, who is also hopeful Erling Haaland and midfielder Kevin De Bruyne will be available soon.
Haaland has missed six matches with a foot problem while De Bruyne has not played since August because of a hamstring injury.
“He (Haaland) is training alone and getting better, it’s a question of when the pain will disappear,” he said.
“He’s not a skinny guy like Phil Foden, he’s huge and tall so it is more difficult sometimes.
“Kevin is close, but he had fatigue yesterday and we have to be careful. If you don’t handle the timings good you can get injured again.
“I’d love for him to play the next game or Huddersfield (in the FA Cup), but what is important is keeping him fit for a long time, not for one game or another.”
Everton manager Sean Dyche was frustrated by the award of the penalty for handball against Amadou Onana that allowed City to take the lead through Alvarez, but did not use it as an excuse.
“I don’t have a clue. No-one does. Is that deliberate? Of course not. I don’t know where you are supposed to put your hands,” he said.
“The lawmakers are making all these mad rules. I don’t know why they don’t leave the game alone. All the managers are frustrated with it. Maybe the referees are. The players definitely are.
“If he deliberately did that he must be some keeper. His reactions were cat-like. I’ve never seen anything like it.
“But they are still a top side. We know they make chances and you have to try to stop those, which we didn’t do.”