Pep Guardiola has revealed that Manchester City’s draw with West Bromwich Albion in December forced him to change his entire approach and return to the principles which won back-to-back Premier League titles.
A Ruben Dias own goal and spirited defensive display allowed relegation-threatened Albion to secure an unlikely point at the Etihad on 15 December, leaving City five points adrift of leaders Tottenham Hotspur.
City have won 15 consecutive games in all competitions since – an all-time record for a English top-flight side – and face Tottenham at the Etihad on Saturday having not lost since their defeat in November’s reverse fixture.
Guardiola insists that his players are the ones who deserve the credit for City emerging as overwhelming title favourites, with his side five points clear at the summit with a game in hand over their nearest challengers.
And though their unbeaten run stretches back to their last meeting with Tottenham, the Catalan believes the West Bromwich Albion game was the turning point in their fortunes.
“We could’ve won with two incredible chances at the end but after that game, I felt this is not the team I can recognise myself,” he said, recalling late misses by Ilkay Gundogan and Raheem Sterling.
“I didn’t like what I watched, I didn’t like what I saw. We could have won but Tottenham… West Bromwich, I didn’t like it.
“We talked with Juanma [Lillo, his assitant], with Rodo [Borrell], with Manel [Estiarte], with Txiki [Begiristain]. And we said OK, we have to come back to our first principle and we had to reconstruct the team from that point. What we are as a team, how we had success in the past.
“We had to come back to our game, move the ball quicker, do more passes, stay in position, run less with the ball, do it together. We don’t have a specific player to win games, we have to do it together.
“But above all that was the commitment of the players. They talked, they think OK, we have to do more and they did it.
“After that we didn’t press ourselves too much. We just said to win the next game, don’t think we are in a position to win the Premier League or whatever, we are not good enough to compete right now. Win the next game with our principles and see what happened.
“Everyone dropped points and we didn’t do it. What we want to do is continue with those principles as long as possible.”
Guardiola expects that City’s long unbeaten run will end soon enough, but that he and his players will simply stick to the principles which have served them well when it does.
“A defeat is coming. It is going to come. This is exceptional, because this has never before been done since English football started,” he said.
“We are going to lose a game, in that moment reinforce the principles and come back to what we have done so far in the last three or four years.
“It’s not about winning or losing, we could have won against West Bromwich when Gundo and Raheem were in front of the keeper in the six-yard box. It was I didn’t like how we were playing.
“We came back to what I said from day one when I arrived here. We have to do this, this this. The results and the qualities of the players did the rest.”