Pep Guardiola believes soccer will experience a rise in Covid cases again as a result of next month’s international break but has indicated he will not prevent any Manchester City players from travelling.
Fifa announced that clubs were not obliged to release players for internationals in countries that require a quarantine of five or more days on return. For elite sportspeople in Britain a 10-day quarantine applies after visiting red list countries such as Portugal and all of South America.
This means City could order Bernardo Silva, João Cancelo, Rúben Dias, Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Agüero to remain at home but Guardiola said City were not minded to do so even though those players would then miss the game at Leicester on April 3rd.
“The players are going to the national team,” the manager said.
Positive Covid tests in the Premier League rose during and after last November’s international break. In December and early January the virus caused significant disruption to the Premier League and EFL fixture list.
Since Aston Villa’s home match with Everton on January 14th, no top-flight game has been called off because of coronavirus. Guardiola was reminded of this and asked whether cases could rise again during the upcoming international fortnight.
“Hopefully not but the only way to be protected [best] is to stay at home,” he said. “The players are going to national teams and it’s difficult to control it, so it is going to rise unfortunately. I would love to say or to guess it’s not going to happen but from experience it happened in two or three waves already worldwide.”
Guardiola said there had been no discussions between clubs and national federations regarding the issue.
“No, we’ve not had a letter or advice about it. I think the Premier League, all leagues, [should be] concerned. I know the national federations need to play – this is normal – but the reason why there were a lot of cases in the Premier League and now there are no cases is because people don’t move. The moment you take planes and go other places everything can happen.”
Meanwhile, Guardiola has paid tribute to the “exceptional” job done by Jürgen Klopp and expressed sympathy for his Liverpool counterpart.
Klopp is in a difficult period both professionally and personally, with the German unable to attend the funeral of his mother Elisabeth last week due to travel restrictions.
That has put in to perspective Liverpool’s on-pitch woes, with a third successive defeat against Leicester leading Klopp to admit his side’s title defence was over as they slipped out of the top four.
But Guardiola, who lost his own mother to coronavirus last April, said he had “a lot” of sympathy for Klopp.
“What he produces in world football is exceptional,” Guardiola said. “I say many times now, last season and in previous seasons in Germany.
“His philosophy makes football attractive for all spectators. He always produces joy to the fans, to world football, to attack, there’s no doubts about this.”
Klopp said on Monday that “nobody has to worry about me” as he dismissed suggestions he might take a break or quit, and Guardiola expects him to bounce back.
“We all have good moments and bad moments, no manager or club can sustains seasons and seasons and seasons to win and win,” Guardiola said. “It would be boring.
“Sometimes you have to lose to realise. I speak from my own point of view and not my colleagues’, but sometimes it’s good to lose to realise how difficult everything is. When you try to come back and win games you get more credit and you are more satisfied in what you are doing.”
City will be without the in-form Ilkay Gundogan for the visit to Everton after the Germany international suffered a groin injury in Saturday’s win over Tottenham.
Gundogan’s absence will be a major blow given his recent outstanding form – he scored twice against Spurs to move on to 13 goals for the season with City – but there is better news elsewhere with Kevin De Bruyne back in training.
Sergio Agüero is expected to start on the bench and – with Fernandinho also in contention – Nathan Ake is the only other confirmed absentee.
Jordan Pickford is set to return to Everton’s starting line-up having missed the last four matches with a rib injury.
The England international has been absent since colliding with a post during last month’s home defeat by Newcastle but returned to full training on Monday.
Providing there is no adverse reaction to the injury in training, the 26-year-old will replace Robin Olsen against the Premier League leaders and be in contention to face Liverpool in Saturday’s Merseyside derby at Anfield.
Pickford was roundly criticised for the tackle that ended Virgil van Dijk’s season in October.
Carlo Ancelotti, who could also start with influential midfielder Allan for the first time since December, said: “Pickford trained yesterday and it was okay. We will check again today and if he is available he is going to play.”
Dominic Calvert-Lewin will miss the rearranged game with City because of the hamstring injury sustained in the FA Cup win over Tottenham but Ancelotti remains hopeful of his leading goalscorer returning at Anfield.