Competing on all fronts taking a toll on City but Pep insists it's still 'a joy'

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola celebrates after the final whistle at the Vitality Stadium. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire

 Pep Guardiola knew precisely what this victory meant. His Manchester City side were up against a Bournemouth who parked an entire fleet of red-and-black-striped buses across the Vitality Stadium pitch.

Such was Eddie Howe's determination to ensure there was no repeat of the recent demolition by Arsenal, he entirely forgot, or wilfully ignored, his attack.

For only the fourth time since Opta have been collating such statistics, here was a Premier League side failing to record a shot. Yet with a combination of patience, control and a lack of panic, City found a way through the massed defence to return home with three points.

"When you win easy the people can say things," said Guardiola, who admitted enjoying the masochistic pleasures of a hard-earned victory rather more than the gratuitous pleasures of a romp.

"We play to score goals, but we also play not to concede chances. You always think that today is maybe the day it doesn't happen.

"Maybe this is the day they will be tired and that today may not be our day. But then it turns out completely the opposite. Time and time again the players are there."

Critical

Riyad Mahrez's strike 10 minutes after half-time may not have been a contender for goal of the season, but what it did was critical: it kept up the pressure on Liverpool.

And Guardiola suggested it was the continuing excellence of Jurgen Klopp's side that has improved his team from the one who walked away with the title with a record points tally last May.

"In the way we play, we are much, much better," he said. "I would prefer to be in last season's position, 12 points in front. That's an exceptional situation and is nice.

"Without Liverpool we would be champions. We could have been 10 points behind if Liverpool had beaten us, but now we are pushing them.

"Let them feel we are there, let them know that we are pushing them, just round the corner. That's all we can do. When they miss one shot we must take it."

But despite the Merseyside derby draw which saw Liverpool fail to leapfrog City yesterday, Guardiola is aware of the difference in workload between the sides.

While Klopp's team are in contention for two trophies, City, with the League Cup recently popped into the cabinet, are still engaged in three.

"We have played nine or 10 more games than Liverpool and that's a lot of minutes in our legs," the City manager said. "We have played for all the competitions, and despite that we are still there. That is why I am so happy."

The toll was obvious on the pitch. Just before half-time, Kevin De Bruyne hobbled off with a sore hamstring; just after it, John Stones departed with a tight muscle in his groin. Both appeared to be suffering from the rigours of success.

"It is always big now," said De Bruyne. "Every game is like a cup final. But now we played before them (Liverpool) so it's very important not to drop points, but everybody who saw the game knows that it is very tough to attack all the time. We did good."

The advantage Guardiola has over everyone else is the scale of his resources. Howe, for instance, has not had £1.1 billion invested in his club over the past four years.

There may have been an indication of the future in the youthfulness of Bournemouth's defence Jack Simpson was playing only his second Premier League game; both have been against City.

For City, money brings the growing continuity of success. Though Guardiola was unsure whether winning the league last season gives them psychological advantage over Liverpool in the run-in.

"I don't know if it's a benefit or not. Maybe when you don't win it for a long time the desire is higher. I didn't think about it," he said.

What he does know, however, is that he is loving every moment of the attempt to win on four fronts. For him, there is no stress involved.

"It's nice to be there. Two titles in our pocket already and being there with Liverpool, the best Liverpool in their history in terms of points in the Premier League. When you have won 100 points the previous season you can get complacent, but we are there again.

"We are one game from the quarter-finals of the Champions League and one game from a semi-final in the FA Cup. So that is not stress. It's the opposite - a joy."