Pep Guardiola believes the secret to Manchester City’s recent surge is running less.
City are on their longest winning run for 20 months after chalking up six successive victories, including Cup triumphs away at Arsenal and Manchester United and arguably their best performance of the season when they defeated Chelsea 3-1 at Stamford Bridge.
But whereas some managers call for their team to put in more effort, Guardiola thinks City were trying too hard and are now prospering because they are letting the ball do the work.
City’s fortunes have been transformed since their 1-1 draw with relegation-threatened West Bromwich Albion. And Guardiola said: “The only difference is that we run less. We were playing running too much. With football you have to walk – or run much less, without the ball you have to run. But with the ball you stay more in position and let the ball run, not you. That’s improved in these games.”
Guardiola feels City were trying to run themselves back into shape after they lacked their usual build-up to a campaign, but in the process forgot about the importance of allowing the ball to come to them.
“From day one we lost it a bit this season,” he said. “My fault – the message was not clear but we came back with the principles, especially the players need time to get the best condition after no pre-season.”
City host Brighton on Wednesday in the start of three home league games in eight days. It is a spell that could end with them top of the table for the first time this season.
Guardiola is ignoring the bigger picture but admitted that he felt his side did not deserve to be described as favourites after some of their earlier displays.
“We tried to say to the players be calm because this is a strange situation and the most intelligent thing I can say is Brighton, Brighton, Brighton,” he said. “The rest are not in my thoughts for one second, only Brighton. And after that I can see what happens. Momentum can arrive and disappear in an instant.
"We didn't play well in the beginning to deserve to be up there, so the people who analyse the last games and say we are not candidates and others are. We dropped points to West Brom [at home] and West Ham away. The public opinion said we do not deserve to be contenders."
Brighton have only won two league games all season and have suffered seven straight defeats to City, conceding 13 in the last three, but Guardiola is an admirer of their progressive principles and their manager.
“They are a joy to watch and a joy to analyse,” he said. “They have the courage to play. I am a big fan of Graham Potter.”
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City will still be without Sergio Aguero, who sat out Sunday's FA Cup win over Birmingham and is set to miss the weekend game against Crystal Palace. Their record goalscorer is self-isolating as a close contact of someone who tested positive for coronavirus.
Guardiola shrugged off concerns that the Argentinian, whose contract expires in the summer, will not return to his best for City.
“I wish [he will],” he said. “He is in a good mood or he was and now is isolating. He is going to need some more training sessions.
"The only important news is the last 10-15 days before isolating he was perfect and this is the best news. We are only in January. The best part of the season is coming and hopefully we can have him.”
Gabriel Jesus and Kyle Walker made comebacks at the weekend after recovering from Covid-19, while Ferran Torres and Tommy Doyle are back in contention now.
“I was impressed with what they did [on Sunday], especially Kyle playing 90 minutes,” Guardiola said. “Ferran and Tommy lost weight, they are a little bit skinnier, two or three kilos but that’s normal. Every player who suffers this Covid recovers differently.”