A reunion with Manuel Pellegrini provided Pep Guardiola with a chance to reminisce about his second season in charge of Barcelona when he pipped Pellegrini’s Real Madrid to the Spanish league title by three points.
It is clearly a happy memory for the Manchester City manager – “I remember perfectly that season,” he said – and it is an experience that may become increasingly relevant as this campaign, in a different country but with similar challenges, reaches its busiest months.
Barcelona’s final tally in 2009-10 was 99 points, the highest they achieved under Guardiola. They were pushed and inspired to reach that total by the excellence of Pellegrini’s Madrid, whose 96 points was the most they had ever amassed in La Liga.
“Madrid were playing incredibly good,” said Guardiola after his City side thrashed Pellegrini’s West Ham 4-0 on Saturday.
Now, Guardiola’s City has that same feeling. They keep winning with ease, as they did again at the London Stadium, but they cannot shake the chasing pack. Liverpool is just two points behind and at the current rate are set to win 96 points this season. City, meanwhile, is on course to win the league with 102 points, two more than they achieved last year. It is an unprecedented level of dominance, and it reminds Guardiola of the relationship in tennis between three of the all-time greats, who were driven to greater heights by the relentless brilliance of the competition.
“It is similar with Nadal, Federer, and Djokovic,” Guardiola said. “They put one better than the other because they know they needed to.
“They (my players) know how strong Liverpool are. And they know 100 points (may be needed) because if not, Liverpool is going to win the league. It is the same with Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal as well.
“To compete we need good opponents close, and this season we have it here and in Europe.”
This is how Guardiola intends to keep his players motivated. If there is even the slightest drop in intensity, he will be telling them, then they will be punished. This is why he was so reluctant to praise his squad for this dismantling of West Ham, instead of saying they were fortunate to have won the game so comfortably.
“We must analyze how was the game, the good things we did and the other things we have to improve,” Guardiola said.
“If you don’t, if you say, ‘OK, 0-4, everything is perfect’, then around the corner comes defeat.”
It will help Guardiola’s cause this season to have squad players such as Fabian Delph. With Benjamin Mendy ruled out for months with a knee injury, Delph will be needed again at left-back. So it was at the London Stadium when Delph impressed in defence a week after starring in England’s midfield.