Man City are top of the Premier League for the first time since February 17 thanks to 2-1 win over Fulham; when asked if his players will require a leader like Winston Churchill, Guardiola responded: “This group of players don’t need a leader. They know what they have to do”
Pep Guardiola believes his Manchester City players are capable of winning the Premier League title by themselves and will not require Churchillian inspiration to keep Arsenal at bay.
City moved top of the Premier League for the first time since February 17 thanks to a hard-fought 2-1 win over Fulham at Craven Cottage.
Pep Guardiola’s men were pushed until the end by Fulham, who stuck doggedly with the in-form champions throughout the match.
Far more experienced top-flight sides might have crumbled when Erling Haaland netted his 50th goal of the season from the penalty spot after just three minutes.
However, Fulham managed to find a leveller a little over 10 minutes later through Carlos Vinicius, who has struggled for goals since he became a regular starter in the absence of the suspended Aleksandar Mitrovic.
It took a touch of class from Julian Alvarez to restore the visitors’ advantage in the first half, superbly curling home what proved to be the winner.
When asked if his side will need a leader and statesman of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s stature during City’s quest to achieve an unprecedented treble, Guardiola responded: “This group of players don’t need a leader. They know what they have to do.
City have won eight consecutive Premier League games, which is the longest winning run by a team in 2022-23 (overtaking Arsenal’s seven between February-April)
“Definitely [this was one of the hardest games in the run-in] and we knew it. All the time, we come from a run of victories as Arsenal didn’t drop points and it looked like the target was just beating Arsenal. But when you play that game, you can drop a little bit.
“I didn’t see that drop. The grass was dry for both teams so it was difficult to get rhythm but we found our momentum. We defended properly which is the biggest difference from the past. We struggled a little bit but it’s normal and my only concern is how we recover.
“We have a lot of games, every three days, and it is normal. Winning games helps us to be faster and we accept the challenge.”
It is just the 15th day this season that City have ended the day in first position, with Arsenal having occupied the spot for 247 days.
It was Fulham who looked most likely to score again as the game neared its conclusion, but City held on to move above the Gunners.
Haaland made no mistake with his powerful penalty just three minutes in after Tim Ream, who has been a mainstay of the Fulham defence this campaign, was adjudged to have brought down Alvarez in the box.
It was a 50th goal of the season for Manchester City across all competitions for Haaland, and his 34th in the Premier League – equalling the record in a single campaign (also 34 by Andrew Cole in 1993/94 and Alan Shearer in 1994/95).
Guardiola was aware, however, of another record that had been matched from 92 years ago – prompting the later question regarding Churchill.
Aston Villa’s Tom ‘Pongo’ Waring notched up exactly 50 during the 1930/31 campaign – the last player to score 50 goals in a single season for a club at the top of the English pyramid.
“I know that Winston Churchill was not even Prime Minister the last time the record was set that Erling equalled! That means it was a long time ago. He showed his mentality with his goal,” said Guardiola.
Silva: Injuries the bigger blow beyond defeat
Fulham have lost three of their last four Premier League games at Craven Cottage (W1), which is as many defeats as they had suffered in their opening 13 home games this season combined. They were ultimately punished for a sluggish start as they would grow in confidence.
The hosts were dealt a blow in the 20th minute with the loss of on-field captain Ream, who slipped trying to make a tackle and landed awkwardly on his arm.
Andreas Pereira was carried off on a stretcher following a coming-together with Manuel Akanji, forcing manager Marco Silva into his second unplanned change of the afternoon.
Silva said: “It’s always difficult to take when you get a defeat but the worst thing today was not the result or the performance but the two players who got injured. They both look serious and this is the worst thing we take from the game. Tim Ream has broken his arm and won’t play again this season. This is really tough to take.
“We conceded a penalty after the first minute but we showed character and personality to come back and equalise. We had a clear plan for the game, where we were focused on using the central zone and force them wide. We knew this was going to happen but the players stuck to the plan.
“They had to move from building with three to building with four [at the back in the first half], but we cannot concede a second goal the way we did it. We lost the ball in a certain area and it allowed them to counter-attack.
“We didn’t create many chances but there were some dangerous moments around the box.”
On Pereira, Silva added: “They are assessing him. He is in hospital. We have to wait a bit longer to know the full extent.
“Like it was with Willian, and already without Mitrovic, maybe the last two-and-a-half months have been tough for us, but the players keep showing their character to be competitive at this level. It’s not just this season. They showed it last season and Tim [Ream] showed it at the age of 35, with 46 games in the Championship.
“It will be a big blow for us but a chance for someone else to come in and show their quality.”