MANCHESTER: Pep Guardiola has refused to concede the Premier League title to Chelsea despite a disappointing 0-0 home draw with Stoke City which left Antonio Conte’s league leaders with a 10-point lead at the top of the table.
The Manchester City manager gambled by resting key players John Stones, David Silva and Raheem Sterling ahead of this weekend’s FA Cup quarter-final at Middlesbrough and next week’s Champions League last 16 second leg trip to Monaco.
The tactic backfired with City only looking like breaking down Stoke after Guardiola threw on Spanish international Silva as a substitute with just under an hour gone.
“I have said before, we take it game by game,” said Guardiola of the lead held by Chelsea. “The lead is 10 points and we now have one less game.
“We’re going to see what happens in the next game and then take it game by game. When a gap is like this, you have to focus like that; not on big targets.”
Guardiola insisted that he had no regrets over his gamble to rest key players and, with City looking impressive in the FA Cup and Champions League, there was logic behind his selection.
“The priority is the next game,” said Guardiola. “And we play for the next game.
“The rotations are good when you have successful results and they are not brilliant when you miss out.
“We only have two days now and we have another (FA Cup) game — and another one away because we have never played at home in the cup this season — and we have to use all the players.
“I would like to use more players — like Fabian Delph and others. And in the last game I didn’t play Kevin De Bruyne from the beginning so we have to use all the squad in this calendar with a lot of games.
“After another three or four days we travel to France for Monaco, then another three or four days we have Liverpool. When you have one game a week you can play only 11 players no problems. If not, you have to make a rotation and it makes it so difficult.”
Stoke’s former Manchester City manager Mark Hughes was pleased with his team’s response following their last away outing, a disastrous 4-0 defeat at Tottenham, but admitted he was surprised, and relieved, when he discovered Silva was not starting for the home side.
“You saw his influence when he came on,” said Hughes. “If I’m honest, I was pleased he wasn’t starting because he does give them an extra element to their play.
“His calmness in possession, his ability to see the correct pass at the right time is outstanding. He’s a world-class player so we weren’t too upset when he wasn’t in the starting line-up and were a bit more anxious when he came on.”