Pep Guardiola has insisted his Manchester City players have already done their jobs this season — regardless of whether they succeed in becoming the first team in a decade to retain the Premier League title.
The closest race for an English top-flight crown in recent memory is heading into its closing stages with City or Liverpool doomed to be disappointed at its outcome.
But Guardiola firmly believes his City team is playing better now than it did 12 months ago, when it was on the brink of compiling a record 100 Premier League points.
And given the impressive nature of their title defence, Guardiola has already told his players that the job “is done”, even though the outcome of their bid to win the league and FA Cup, in addition to the League Cup they lifted in February, hangs in the balance.
– ‘Why should I judge?’ –
Victory at Burnley on Sunday would see City restore their one-point lead over Liverpool at the top of the table with two games to play.
“Why should I judge what we have done for the results if at the last moment, for example, what happened in the Champions League (happens)?,” said Guardiola ahead of his team’s trip to Turf Moor as he recalled their dramatic late reversal of fortune in a European quarter-final defeat by Tottenham.
“We will be judged if we lift the title or not?,” the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss added. “The players and I have spoken many times – for you, the job is done.
“In terms of me, our fans and our people, it is done. You had success this season. Hats off!
“But of course we want to win it (the league). We are not going to say ‘it’s enough, the manager told us how good we have done and we’re not going to win it’.
“No, no, no. We want to win it for sure. We want to win the Premier League,” the Catalan manager insisted. “Maybe more than last season, to do something unique for this club. We want to do it.
“But I will not judge them. I will not tell them because of many circumstances — because maybe Burnley is better than us in that game. Maybe we play horrible in one of these three games. It’s happened. You have to try to avoid it, but it can happen.”
– ‘City will improve’ –
City have suffered a drop-off in form from very few players this season, with the injury-plagued Kevin De Bruyne arguably the only senior star who has not hit the heights he achieved 12 months ago.
By contrast, defender Aymeric Laporte, striker Raheem Sterling and playmaker Bernardo Silva have all taken their games on to an even higher level.
But Guardiola said City still had collective room for improvement — which he wanted to oversee.
“If I felt we could not improve it would make no sense to continue together here,” he said.
“Still there are things we can do quicker, understand what we have to do in a better way. We are going to improve individually and collectively. So I don’t have doubts about that.”
He added: “The moment you are tired of them, they are tired of you, that is not going to leave space to move forward and then the manager has to go — ‘Thank you guys!’ — and another one comes.”
Guardiola’s current title contest with Liverpool also had the City manager drawing comparisons with the only other campaign in which he has won a championship in similarly tight circumstances — 2010 when his Barcelona finished with 99 points and Real Madrid 96.
“It is quite similar because we went out in the semi-finals of the Champions League to Inter Milan from (Jose) Mourinho and after we had Villarreal away, a tough game, and we stand up and we won it,” Guardiola recalled.
“When you have 96, 98 points, it is a lot of points, but there can just be one winner.”