Manchester City jaded as Guardiola remains cool on Quadruple chances
Pep Guardiola insists it is “unreal” to consider that Manchester City could win an unprecedented Quadruple. But the Catalan’s determination to compete in every competitions means they remain in the hunt for all four trophies as they enter the final four months of the season.
However, they’ve already battled through a tiring schedule and the accumulation of those matches are starting to bite, with Kevin De Bruyne admitting he was “feeling from the first minute” after Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Burnley.
City have started to pick up injuries at the backend of a busy period with eight players missing from the trip to Turf Moor and Guardiola claiming he was unable to fill his substitute allocation. The burden has fallen on first-team regulars to pick up the slack and there is a danger that fatigue could have a serious effect going into the final months of the season.
Of all the midfielders at English sides in the Champions League, only Manchester United’s Nemanja Matic has played more Premier League minutes than De Bruyne this season. The Serb, however, hasn’t started any of United’s five domestic cup games and was rested for their final two Champions League group stage games.
De Bruyne, on the other hand, played both legs of the Carabao Cup semifinal victory over Bristol City as well as the fourth round FA Cup win over Cardiff City, meaning he has played a total of 2,975 minutes in all competitions — 174 minutes more than Matic. Fernandinho is not much further behind on 2,868 minutes while defender Nicolas Otamendi has also played 2,951 minutes.
The rate of games has been relentless. De Bruyne hasn’t missed a game since Dec. 19 — a total of 13 appearances in just 46 days. In contrast to Matic, the United midfielder has made just eight appearances over the same period. It’s little surprise the Belgium international was looking forward to the three days off that Guardiola gave his players. “I’m going away, it doesn’t matter where!” he joked.
It is City’s first week without a midweek game since August — excluding international breaks — with a seven-day gap between the Burnley game and Saturday’s clash with Leicester City. That’s fewer than any of their top-five title rivals. United were even able to fit in a warm weather winter break to Dubai when they took advantage of a 10-day gap in their fixture schedule.
And there’s no sign of that hectic pressure easing off. City’s next four games are each in the four different competitions, with favourable draws in the FA Cup and the Champions League. With Wigan in the Cup and Basel in the Champions League, there is every reason to suggest there will be more games added to the calendar.
The trip to Arsenal has already been moved to the first Thursday in March to accommodate the Carabao Cup final between the two sides. A win at Wigan would see the Premier League game with Brighton rearranged while the home game with Swansea City would also be moved if they reached the semifinal.
Should they make the last four of the Champions League, City face the possibility of 16 matches in March and April when there would be big Premier League fixtures against top six sides Arsenal, Chelsea, United and Tottenham as well as important European and cup games.
That might explain why Guardiola is refusing to take his foot off their charge to claim the Premier League title. Should City win their next seven games — a not unconceivable target given they have won 24 of 28 games so far this season — they would take the crown in the Manchester derby with five games to spare.
It would give Guardiola an opportunity to concentrate on their Champions League challenge, but their gruelling schedule so far would appear to make it a tough ask to compete with Bayern Munich, who had a three-week winter break or Paris St-Germain and Juventus, who each had a fortnight free.
Even Barcelona and Real Madrid’s one-and-a-half week away over Christmas and New Year will have felt like heaven to Guardiola’s jaded players.
Jonathan is ESPN FC’s Manchester City correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @jonnysmiffy.