LONDON • Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola revealed that his players could not revel in their 5-0 Premier League victory over Burnley on Saturday, as hectic match scheduling had sucked some of the joy out of the sport.
The Covid-19 pandemic forced last season to finish late and this campaign to be condensed into a shorter period, with a chorus of managers lamenting the relentless schedule that they believe has contributed to more injuries.
City, who bounced back from last week’s defeat by Tottenham and moved up to eighth before yesterday’s fixtures with the resounding win over Burnley, travel to Porto for a Champions League game tomorrow before facing Fulham in the Premier League on Saturday.
Guardiola believes the back-to-back games are taking a toll on his team.
“The problem is the players lose the joy of playing football,” he said. “Before it was nice playing once or twice a week with spectators. Now it’s three days and then another one. We will travel to Porto to win, then prepare against Fulham.”
He could at least take comfort in the fact that his side managed to put their scoring woes to one side at the Etihad. City had netted just 10 times in their opening eight games before Saturday’s victory and Guardiola urged his forwards to start delivering if they are to retain their spot in the team.
Riyad Mahrez scored a hat-trick, while Benjamin Mendy and Ferran Torres were the other scorers, as City netted five in their fourth consecutive home meeting with the Clarets. But Guardiola felt they could not always pick up the slack if his strikers are not firing on all cylinders.
“The goals help us, of course. Gabriel Jesus (two league strikes this term) has to score goals. Raheem Sterling (two strikes) when he plays, has to score,” he said.
“They have to score more goals. That is why they are here. It depends on the players, their performance on the pitch.”
His worries that the Clarets rout may be a one-off intensified after Sergio Aguero suffered another setback on the morning of Saturday’s game, ruling him out of the clash with Sean Dyche’s men.
The striker has missed the end of last season and most of the current campaign through injury.
The problem is the players lose the joy of playing football. Before it was nice playing once or twice a week with spectators. Now it’s three days and then another one.
He returned at home to Arsenal but has been on the sidelines since picking up another problem in the subsequent game at West Ham.
Aguero came off the bench to make his comeback at Greek outfit Olympiakos in the Champions League last Wednesday, but Guardiola admitted he could not put a timescale on when the Argentinian would be able to return fully fit.
“Sergio, depends how he wakes up. He makes good training sessions and then has some niggles,” he said. “He woke up with a little problem in his knee.
“We know the injury he had is not easy for the recovery. We have to handle it as best as possible.”
Elsewhere, Everton’s stand-in captain Mason Holgate called on his teammates to do better following a run of poor performances culminating in a 1-0 defeat by Leeds.
The Toffees had two goals ruled out for offside before Raphinha struck the winner for Leeds in the 79th minute, as the hosts slumped to their fourth defeat in five league games.
“We’ve been beaten in a few games now, which we’re not happy with,” Holgate told Sky Sports. “We know we have to do better than we’re doing and the inconsistency needs to be dropped.”