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Sunday 22 July 2018

Pep steps away from the party to start planning City's title defence

JOB DONE: Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola celebrates with players and staff during City’s Premier League title coronation at the Etihad Stadium yesterday. Photo: PA
JOB DONE: Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola celebrates with players and staff during City’s Premier League title coronation at the Etihad Stadium yesterday. Photo: PA

Manchester City lifted the Premier League trophy yesterday, but boss Pep Guardiola appeared preoccupied with pointing out how tough it will be to retain their title next season.

City had already been confirmed as the division's winners in emphatic fashion last month.

Yesterday was supposed to be the day they added exclamation marks, with three Premier League records firmly in their sights.

Yet a 0-0 home draw with Huddersfield meant Guardiola's side were unable to set new benchmarks for the most points, goals and wins in history.

Guardiola stressed this stalemate was an indication of just how challenging it will be to defend their crown.

BUBBLY: Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola drinks champagne
in the post match press conference. Photo: PA
BUBBLY: Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola drinks champagne in the post match press conference. Photo: PA

"The game showed me how difficult everything is," said the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss, who came into his post-match press conference flanked by his backroom staff.

"Sometimes people expect, 'Oh, it's so easy'. Huddersfield come here, play defensively, almost perfect, a lot of credit for what they have done.

"It looks easy when you've won a lot of games - it's so tough and next season will be tougher because the opponents want to beat you, maybe we will be a little bit relaxed and you have to be focused if you want to maintain what we have done this season.

"Help us to understand, this game for example, how difficult it will be next season. Sport is like this, it's so complicated."

Such has been City's dominance over the course of the season, the title has been a foregone conclusion for months and it was even confirmed without them playing thanks to West Brom's shock win against Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Guardiola's side had beaten Swansea 5-0 and West Ham 4-1 since, and though they were below-par against the Terriers, they will still reach the 100-point mark with two final victories.

Special

"I know when you win a final or [there is a Sergio] Aguero goal in the last minute, it's something special," Guardiola added.

"Here we had time to accept the reality. We won two, three weeks ago. We were surprised how good we maintained our focus.

"Today, for many reasons, we were not able. We have to try to make the last effort."

This was the first of a final three-game stretch that had many fearing for Huddersfield's top-flight status, with a trip to Chelsea and a home fixture with Arsenal to round off their campaign.

Few gave them a chance of stopping City and manager David Wagner lavished praise on his players for proving them wrong and moving three points clear of the bottom three.

"In football - and everybody who supporters Huddersfield Town knows this - sometimes the impossible is possible," the German declared.

"This looked impossible before kick-off, but the players have done it and made the impossible possible.

"It wasn't a stolen point, it was a deserved point. It was against the champions.

"They've scored more than 100 goals and we kept a clean sheet. This says enough about the effort and the achievement the players had.

"I'm proud, over the moon, for the dressing room, the players, the backroom staff and all the supporters that we were able to collect this point at this very crucial time of the season."

Had Scott Malone managed to beat Ederson with a late opportunity that the Brazilian custodian did well to parry away, Huddersfield's safety would have been confirmed ahead of Swansea's crunch clash with Southampton at the Liberty Stadium on Tuesday evening.

As it is, Wagner feels his men still need something from their final two fixtures.

"Before this game we had three big, big opponents and we were two points in front - now we have two big, big opponents and we are three points in front," he added.

"I think we will need more. We cannot rely on anybody, we only have to trust ourselves."

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