Pep Guardiola relishing feeling the pressure again as Manchester City prepare for season-defining week

City play Arsenal in an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley on Sunday before hosting Manchester United in the Premier League the following Monday

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The Independent Football

Manchester City are going into the biggest week of their season and Pep Guardiola is looking forward to feeling some pressure again.

While Guardiola’s first season in England has been a mixture of brilliant attacking football and disastrous defending, with City left adrift in the title race, he said on Saturday night he had been struck by how forgiving the City fans had been. Even after consecutive bad results they have stuck by the team.

This is a good thing and Guardiola made clear how the fans have been “fantastic” and “perfect” with him. But he said that the best teams play in high-pressure environments where they are forbidden to lose. That has not always been the case at City this year but it will be this week. 

City play Arsenal in an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley on Sunday before hosting Manchester United in the Premier League the following Monday. Win both of those and they will have an FA Cup final to look forward to, as well as a secure grip on a Champions League place. Lose and this mixed season will become a disappointing one.

But for Guardiola, that must-win pressure is something he has not felt enough this season. “If you want to become a successful club, we have to live our professions,” he said. “Here I miss a little bit the pressure. In Spain, especially in Germany, the pressure is higher to the players, to the manager, to everybody. Here it is calm.”

Guardiola knows that pressure is the best way to force improvement. “Sometimes when you realise you cannot lose, when you feel the pressure, the real pressure, that you would be so criticised, the players make a step forward,” he said. “You have to create something for the players’ belief. They cannot lose. We need to put something in the heads and the hearts of the players.”

City are just emerging from a very difficult four-game spell. They went out of the Champions League losing 3-1 in Monaco, then they drew 1-1 at home with Liverpool, drew 2-2 at Arsenal having led twice, then lost 2-1 at Chelsea. Had they won those three league games they would be level with Tottenham. But Guardiola was struck by how the City fans still supported the team at the Hull City game last week.

“For example, we went out of the Champions League in Monaco,” Guardiola said. “We played three tough games against Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. We did not win one game. But our game against Hull City, our supporters helped us and supported us,” Guardiola said, imitating their applause. “That in Italy and Spain does not happen. That is why I am so, so glad for the fans we have. Because for the first time in my life I have experienced that.”

City’s home form, though, is the area that Guardiola most wants to improve going into next season. That is where they have dropped points, with avoidable draws again Everton, Southampton, Middlesbrough and Stoke City. Tottenham, as Guardiola knows, have taken 17 more home points than City this season. “If you want to become a stronger club and stronger team you cannot drop points at home,” Guardiola said. “Because our quality is higher, we cannot drop points. The difference is the mentality, not the quality which is always there.”

But before next season City have a week to define this one. They are playing better than Arsenal at the moment but when the two teams met two weeks ago City twice took the lead but could not put Arsenal away.

The big question for City is whether they can rely on Vincent Kompany, their inspirational captain who has only started eight games this season. He scored on Saturday and if he can get himself through the final weeks of season then City can still finish strongly. “I have been lucky I can make use of a tremendous amount of experience,” said Kompany, discussing his return. “Where I am at physically does not matter. I know what I have to do and as long as I can organise the people around , I can always get a performance.”

That is what Kompany delivered on Saturday but City are understandably cautious going into this week. Kompany will be carefully assessed but he is as important as anyone now that the pressure is back on.