Pep Guardiola was delighted that Manchester City came through a difficult opening day at Arsenal with a victory after being without so many of his players during the preseason.
City sent 16 players to the World Cup in the summer — more than any other team — and six of those have only returned to training in the past fortnight after playing in the semifinals at Russia 2018.
England forward Raheem Sterling only came back on Monday but opened the scoring with a 14th-minute goal at the Emirates Stadium before Bernardo Silva wrapped up a 2-0 win with a second-half strike.
“I am very pleased,” Guardiola told a news conference. “We have not had a lot of training sessions and 90 percent of the Arsenal players were together for the last month-and-a-half, two months.
“Of course we have to improve some movements but in general to be in the moment of the season that we are and to show the desire to run and run … it was the same as last season.
“And the first away game at Arsenal, nobody can tell me it’s not complicated. But to win the way we won is more than a compliment to our team and staff.”
Guardiola praised the desire of those players, some of whom were back at City’s Etihad Campus just two weeks after playing in the World Cup.
“We saw [Sterling] good in the training session and we needed someone in that position and he did it well although he tired in the last 20-25 minutes,” the City boss added.
“Many players made a sacrifice — John Stones, Kyle Walker, Fernandinho. We trained just one week. But the spirit is there and that is the most important thing.”
The victory was the perfect start to City’s title defence as they aim to become the first team in a decade to win back-to-back Premier League titles.
Guardiola said it was too early to tell if his players had the same hunger as last season to hold off challenges from Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea, who all won their opening fixtures. But he suggested the early signs were promising.
“I cannot ask them if they are still hungry because they will say ‘yes boss I am hungry’,” he said. “They will show me if they are hungry here — on the green colour.
“What I saw in the last training sessions and Chelsea and Arsenal games is we are still there. But it’s just one game [in the Premier League].
“We spoke about trying to be what we were. To win here and the way we played is so important for our confidence.”
Oops 😅 https://t.co/dVBYJNbKPM
— Benjamin Mendy (@benmendy23) August 12, 2018
Another bonus for City was the performance of Benjamin Mendy, who made his first Premier League start since September following a cruciate knee ligament injury. The French full-back claimed an assist for Silva’s goal but Guardiola says he has a lot to improve.
“Mendy is Mendy. Sometimes we want to kill him and sometimes you say ‘wow what a player we have’,” he said.
“He gives us extra energy that helps us. Mendy has a lot of things to improve and hopefully we can convince him to be calm, to forget a little bit the social media and focus on what he has to do.”
The World Cup winner took straight to Twitter when the club’s official account reported the comments replying, “Oops.”