Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Pep Guardiola believes he is getting his message across to Manchester City’s players ahead of facing Sunderland, his first Premier League opponents, once again.

City scraped past Sunderland with a late winner at the Etihad in August, after Sergio Aguero’s first goal of Guardiola’s reign was cancelled out by Jermain Defoe.

While Aguero’s long-term City future remains uncertain, with Guardiola refusing to speak about the striker’s desire for contract talks, the manager feels his squad as a whole have made good progress over the last seven months.

“During the season we have had good moments, others not so good. We are in a good moment now but we have to repeat every single game, again and again,” said Guardiola ahead of Sunday’s trip to the Stadium of Light.

“Every game is a game to learn, to improve. Football is not an end situation, everywhere you can improve and get worse too.

“We are better now than we were at the beginning of the season, after seven months together.We try to improve on our mistakes, we see the opponents and how good they are, what we can do to get better.”

The Spaniard added: “I know the players better than the Sunderland game, they know me better. That is normal.

“Hopefully next season we will be a better team than now. If we are a worse team we are in trouble,” the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager added.

“We try to train and analyse when we are going well why we did it well, when we are not going well, why we didn’t do well. And so I think the team is a little bit much better in those terms.

“(It’s) increasing much better and that makes me confident. But you have to show again in Sunderland and in the next games,” explained Guardiola, whose currently third-placed side head into the weekend 11 points behind leaders Chelsea.

– ‘Never see the table’ –

Sunderland sit rock bottom, 33 points adrift of City. But, after Tottenham and Liverpool dropped points away to the Black Cats in January, Guardiola is wary of complacency.

“Never, never, never when I see a team or analyse a team, do I see the table. Never,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter the position they are, I know in that position they will be more physical and pay more attention because of their situation.

“Sunderland’s situation is not easy. But the people think we should win.

“Liverpool and Tottenham should win there and were not able. Every game will be so difficult and so complicated, and will be on Sunday.”

Sunderland will not risk Jan Kirchhoff despite the German midfielder nearing a return after more than two months out with a knee injury.

Black Cats manager David Moyes is also without Jason Denayer, the defender on loan from City, who is unable to play against his parent club. 

“Jan is a very important player for us and it will be good to have him back, but this game comes just too soon for him,” Moyes said.

Defender Papy Djilobodji returns after suspension, but midfielder Steven Pienaar (calf) is a doubt as the relegation-threatened northeast club go in search of a victory in their bid to climb off the bottom of the Premier League.

Moyes has seen City score 10 goals in the two recent games where he has paid a personal check on Guardiola’s side and the Scot added: “There are one or two defensive weaknesses we feel we might be able to exploit. 

“But of course you have to get the ball off them first and that’s easier said than done because they are playing some wonderful football at the moment.”