BOURNEMOUTH, England (Reuters) - Pep Guardiola watched his resurgent Manchester City side stamp themselves as Chelsea’s closest pursuers in the Premier League title race on Monday but was still adamant that “the gap is too big” for his team to catch the runaway leaders.
A well-deserved 2-0 win at Bournemouth’s Dean Court, a venue at which other major contenders like Liverpool have slipped up this season, saw City move from fifth to second, eight points behind Antonio Conte’s men.
Yet though expressing his delight at seeing how his side are progressing so smoothly now, Guardiola was adamant that Chelsea’s lead was just too “massive” to be clawed back.
“The gap is too big,” he told Sky Sports, after celebrating a goal from Raheem Sterling and another that was credited to Bournemouth defender Tyrone Mings, although Sergio Aguero was still claiming it.
”Yesterday they (Chelsea) didn’t win (in a 1-1 draw with Burnley) but they play so solid, it’s so difficult to create chances (against them).
“The gap is still so massive. It’s important is for us to focus on our game, and improve our performance, and my feeling in the last games is our performances are much, much better.”
His protestation that eight points is “massive” does not bear the closest examination with so many Premier League games being so competitive this season but Guardiola is concentrating his sights primarily on winning a Champions League spot.
“The gap between the second and the sixth clubs is so close (four points separates City from their neighbours Manchester United), so today we started the game in fifth place and now we are second,” he said.
“So that means everybody’s still there. Up and down...lose a game and you’re going to be down, so it will be a good battle to qualify for the Champions League.”
If City are to make a concerted title push, Aguero demonstrated again that he could yet play a significant part amid speculation that he could leave at the end of the season.
Once his new starlet Gabriel Jesus had to go off with an ankle injury after quarter of an hour, Aguero, in his third successive match on the bench, was called into action and although for large parts of the game he looked rusty, he still had a key role in City’s second goal.
Although Mings was credited with getting the final touch, the important thing was the Argentine’s sharpness as he latched with alacrity on to Sterling’s cross and Guardiola was left thrilled for him.
“He played good, he won, he fight, scored a goal for his confidence and for us, it’s so important. I‘m so happy for him,” said the manager.
Asked if it underlined his importance to City’s challenge, he added: “Of course. It’s so important. When you play in a big team with a lot of competition for places, we need all the players.”
Including young Jesus, whose first setback in his meteoric start to life in the Premier League saw him hobble off with what Guardiola hopes is only a minor injury.
“Tomorrow morning, we’ll know exactly - but hopefully, hopefully...I‘m going to pray tonight that it’s not going to be a big issue,” Guardiola said.
Reporting by Ian Chadband, editing by Pritha Sarkar