London (AFP) – Pep Guardiola says Manchester City have “incredible things ahead” as he focuses on a trophy treble despite surrendering their Premier League crown to Liverpool.
Guardiola’s side will perform a guard of honour to their major rivals of recent seasons on Thursday after Liverpool ended City’s two-year reign as English champions last week.
A 23-point gap at the top of the table allowed Jurgen Klopp’s men to win the title with a record seven games remaining and Liverpool are on course to smash more Premier League records set by City two seasons ago.
However, City could yet have one of their most successful ever seasons. Guardiola’s men have already retained the League Cup, are through to the semi-finals of the FA Cup and have a 2-1 lead from the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie against Real Madrid.
“We lost the Premier League with seven games left and more than 20 points,” said Guardiola in a pre-match videoconference.
“The challenge this season was to try to win the Premier League again but what happened, happened because we were not as consistent as in previous seasons.
“Even doing really, really well, with the numbers Liverpool have done it was almost impossible. When that happened, all we can do is accept it. You can never win all the time, do well all the time.”
Guardiola hailed Klopp’s Liverpool as the toughest opponent he has faced even as City edged a titanic tussle for the title last season by a single point.
But he pointed to winning the Champions League for a third time in his coaching career rather than dethroning Liverpool next season as his biggest challenge.
“I had many, many challenges in my career as a manager,” added Guardiola.
“This is one more. All the people say I’m a big failure because I didn’t win the Champions League in Munich or here.”
– ‘Exceptional’ players –
Despite the disappointment of losing their crown, the Guardiola praised his “exceptional players” for their efforts during this season, saying: “We have incredible things ahead.”
As it stands City will be banned from European football for the next two seasons.
The verdict of their appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport will be known later this month, but Guardiola is keen to secure qualification for next season’s Champions League on the field as soon as possible.
“The Premier League is over but we play every game first to qualify for the Champions League,” he said. “Still we are not there.
“Now is about preparing ourselves for the next season and the best way is to prepare for these games against Arsenal (in the FA Cup) and Real Madrid.
“I think all the games we have in the Premier League are an incredible opportunity to arrive in these two games in the best condition possible.”
Guardiola admitted that the departure of David Silva a year after the loss of Vincent Kompany, combined with the ageing of other senior players such as Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho, would inevitably mean a rebuild at the club.
“It’s not like a disastrous thing or a bad thing,” he said. “It’s a normal situation.”
“It’s happened at the clubs around the world,” he added. “It can never be eternal. We have to accept it and try to take the right decisions as a club to maintain the level that we have.”