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Manchester City plan birthday gift for Guardiola

Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Manchester City plan to give Pep Guardiola a belated birthday present when the leaders try to bounce back from their first Premier League defeat in more than nine months against Newcastle on Saturday.

City boss Guardiola, who turned 47 on Thursday, watched as his side’s 30-game unbeaten league record was ended in a thrilling 4-3 defeat at Liverpool last Sunday.

It meant City’s lead at the top of the table was reduced to 12 points, as Manchester United moved up to second place by beating Stoke on Monday.

Guardiola himself has repeatedly urged caution, declaring just before the Liverpool match that City could still lose the title.

The Spaniard has also said the true test of his team would come in how they responded when they did finally lose a league game – and he will find that out this weekend.

“We lost against a fantastic Liverpool team. We have to be sure to win the next one and fight until the end to win the Premier League,” Guardiola said.

“We have to fight – especially in this league, with a lot of games in the last two months, with four competitions. Now we must analyse and be positive.

“People asked if everything was over and done before Christmas, and now it’s January and it’s not. We have a lot of games to win to be champions.”

City have had a mixed week off the pitch, having decided to end their attempts to sign Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez, but securing central defender Nicolas Otamendi on a contract extension that runs until 2022.

Otamendi has been a key player for City this season, to the extent that Guardiola has described him as ‘Superman’, and his steadying influence is likely to prove crucial as defensive partner John Stones and goalkeeper Ederson attempt to respond positively after errors that led to Liverpool goals last weekend.

– Fresh doubts –

There is plenty for City to be positive about in attack, despite the failure to sign Sanchez and the continuing absence of Gabriel Jesus with a knee injury.

Guardiola’s team have scored 10 times in their past three league and cup matches. 

City remain without full-backs Fabian Delph and Benjamin Mendy because of knee injuries, as well as Jesus, but Guardiola has his other key senior players available.

Newcastle travel to Eastlands with fresh doubts surrounding the future of manager Rafa Benitez after the collapse of takeover talks.

Mike Ashley has pulled out of negotiations to sell to Amanda Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners consortium, leaving Benitez with little prospect but to continue working under the club’s billionaire owner, with who he has an increasingly strained relationship.

It threatens to be a third consecutive transfer window where the manager has failed to receive significant financial backing to boost a squad desperately short of top flight quality.

Newcastle have won their past two away league games to leave them three points above the relegation zone as they bid to avoid an immediate return to the Championship.

They have failed to beat City in 20 Premier League meetings since their last victory more than 12 years ago, and Benitez came in for criticism for his ultra-defensive tactics as Guardiola’s side won 1-0 at St James’ Park last month.

However, Benitez said: “I’m not worried by the criticism. Would it stop me from doing the same again? No. I will do what I have to do to win for my team.”

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