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Guardiola is using League Two jibe about Haaland as fuel for City's title charge

  /  autty

A larger number of Premier League players than you might expect read everything. They see everything. Some even have the MailOnline app installed on their phones.

And Manchester City are no different — crystalised before winning at Leeds United last season. Rodri had watched Arsenal beat West Ham two days prior, the Spaniard becoming incensed at the giddying commentary around Mikel Arteta’s team and their prospects of lifting the title.

‘They were talking like it’s almost done,’ Rodri said inside an Elland Road dressing room huddle. ‘I was thinking, “What the f***?” It seems they don’t respect you guys.’

A product of his environment, an environment where Pep Guardiola’s messaging is consistently driven by perception. He’s built an atmosphere of defiance over time; against UEFA, against the Premier League, against the broadcasters, against the general public. Millwall but with the ball on the floor.

They’re always railing against something, this City team, and so Roy Keane handed them another piece of ammunition over the weekend. Keane’s suggestion that Erling Haaland resembled a League Two striker outside of the box prompted a strong reaction from Guardiola and now makes it a clean sweep of Sky Sports big hitters who have agitated the City boss this term; Gary Neville, Jamie Carragher and Micah Richards all copping for it before Christmas.

Guardiola relished the question on Haaland, knowing exactly how he’d counter it. He dismissed the assertion outright before then appearing mystified that any ex-professional would criticise a current superstar.

‘From journalists I can understand, because they have never been on the pitch, but the former players I am always surprised at,’ Guardiola said. ‘Their memory disappears quick. How difficult is that business for the players?

‘It’s like the referees when they retire, they always criticise the referees. I am not a guy who is going to criticise my colleagues when I retire, I am not going there saying it should be this or that.

‘But if you can’t accept it as a footballer you must find another job or read a book. If you’re in the public eye, you have to accept it. It’s why you have to get your agent to ask for a lot of money.’

There was some humour and sarcasm mixed in, as is the Catalan’s way to soften any point, but the overriding emotion to Keane was exactly the same as Rodri’s second sentence at Leeds. Jibes at how Keane, like everyone else, made ‘one thousand million’ mistakes through his career.

One remark about the Irishman’s managerial record could be construed as either snarky or sincere. Guardiola has a penchant for purposefully leaving those open to interpretation.

And they actually have a game on Wednesday night against a team who schooled the Treble winners back in December. Aston Villa nullified Haaland while winning 1-0, passing City off the park. Even with Villa’s Ollie Watkins absent because of injury, Guardiola is understood to have been a little more edgy around the training ground on Tuesday.

City certainly cannot afford to lose but — given the relatively comfortable fixtures for Arsenal and Liverpool – a draw wouldn’t be much good either. Ederson is out again and City are worried about the extent of Nathan Ake’s calf injury. Kyle Walker also has no chance of playing against Real Madrid next week.

Some problems were overshadowed by Keane and that is probably how Guardiola preferred it on the day. Very few questions about their title aspirations. One did stick though, Guardiola was reminded of a comment he made in 2022 that the whole country wanted Liverpool to prevail over City in that nail-biting campaign.

Is that more the case now, given Jurgen Klopp departing in the summer? ‘I don’t have an opinion now,’ he smiled. ‘I had one two years ago, now I don’t have it.’ Given what we know about him, that feels hard to believe.