Pep Guardiola has backed his friend and former teammate Luis Enrique to be very successful at whatever job he takes next after his one-year sabbatical finishes this summer. As if Pep was ever going to say anything different about his good friend.
What is perhaps far more telling is his verdict over Conte and the Chelsea head coach’s impact on the Premier League in just 18 months. Guardiola sang Conte’s praises last year (“biggest threat”), too, and this year’s meeting is now different despite Chelsea’s less impressive season.
“Luis Enrique is one of the best, best, best managers. I know him very well. He is a friend of mine. I know he can do whatever he wants, but Antonio is the manager of Chelsea.
“What Antonio has done here in the Premier League, maybe the people don’t realise. He introduced another way to attack with five at the back, another system, a lot of teams, even Arsenal, had to do a lot of imitating to do that.
”Tactically he is a master, he did it amazingly with the national team with Italy and when he went to Turin (Juventus). I think Conte is going to give something to English football. I’m sure of that”
Despite his successes at Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and now at Manchester City, Pep is no stranger to the outsized pressures on head coaches in modern football. He may be the cock of the walk this year, but last year...
“Last season I had the pressure. People said, “What is he doing this guy? With those beliefs? He’s coming here to play with those beliefs, that guy”.
”I don’t understand ever when managers come here and criticise other managers, because we are alone. I would like to protect more situations. I want to beat Arsenal and all of them, and they want to beat me. That is normal.
”In football, we know that if we don’t win, what we have done in the past, it does not really matter.”
Indeed, ‘tis a fickle world out there. Last season Chelsea couldn’t do anything wrong if they tried and Conte was being hailed as a genius; a few months later, Conte can’t get anything right, and whatever he has achieved is a thing of the distant past and insignificant in the grand scheme of things. What have you done for me lately? That’s football for you.
Guardiola will no doubt be keenly aware that no Premier League champions have defended their crown in the last decade — Manchester United were last to repeat in 2008-09 — and no Premier League-winning manager has lasted beyond the next season since then either. So even though City have easily blown away the competition this season, next year probably will be a completely different situation.
“...we are doing well. We dropped few points. That’s why. The results from Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea, they are good. They are results to fight for the Premier League.
“Of course we have bought a lot of players and they have helped us a lot. Next summer the plan is to buy one or two players more so our market in the summer will be cheaper.”
-Pep Guardiola; source: Evening Standard
Manchester City have truly reaped the benefits of the “Competence + Money = Success” formula which Conte spoke about in his press conference. They’re 16 points ahead of second placed Manchester United, they won 4-0 away to Basel in the first leg of the Champions League’s Round of 16, making the second leg look like a mere formality, and yet, they’re not done. They’re looking to buy more, to become better and to achieve more. Truly ambitious, those lot.
However, Sunday is just one game and within the scope of just one game, anything can happen. Chelsea need this win far more than City do. Could that make a difference?