Pep Guardiola

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Guardiola: ‘Unless they sack me, I am staying, 100 percent’

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Pep Guardiola has put to rest any speculation over his short-term future, saying that he is “100 percent staying” at Manchester City next season.

[ MORE: Report: Bruno Fernandes to Man United after Lisbon Derby ]

“Unless they sack me,” he prefaced his intent to remain at Man City for a fifth season. In that case, we can all expect Guardiola to be the one patrolling the manager’s box at the Etihad Stadium come August — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s not because we have won the last two games. Even if it was going bad, I’m not going anywhere. No manager wins all the time. I enjoy working with these players. We’ve lost some games so it is simple, we need to work out what we can do better.”

While Guardiola has admitted the Premier League title is already too far gone for City to retain for a third straight season, the possibility of claiming a Champions League, FA Cup and EFL Cup treble is still on the table for Guardiola’s side. If that’s to be considered a “down year,” Guardiola’s employment is likely to remain very secure for a very long time to come.

Pep on record-collecting Aguero: ‘He’s a legend and legends rise’

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Sergio Aguero had a hand in four of six Manchester City goals in a 6-1 blowout of Aston Villa on Sunday.

The performance etched his name twice more in the Premier League record books, as he became the league’s all-time leading foreign-born scorer (177) and hat trick hero (12).

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Those records were held by Thierry Henry and Alan Shearer, which is nice.

Aguero reacted with humility to the achievement, but Pep Guardiola sang the praises of his Argentine mega finisher.

“He’s a legend and legends rise tonight. Thierry Henry is one most incredible players to play in this league and he will be proud that Sergio is the guy who breaks his record. He was a legend and Sergio is the same. To score this amount of goals means you have done for many years a lot of good things. He’s been consistent for many years and so we are proud of him.

“He is the most incredible person. You cannot achieve this without being a guy who loves to play football.”

Aguero is tied with Frank Lampard for the fourth-most goals in league history with 177, both 10 behind Andy Cole. Next is Wayne Rooney with 208 and Alan Shearer’s absurd 260. It seems likely Aguero will finish his time in England in third and it could happen this season.

Aguero’s .69 goals per game is higher than every player to score 100 Premier League goals, though Henry (.68) and contemporary Harry Kane (.68) are just behind.

PL Sunday Preview: Watford travel to Bournemouth; Aston Villa host City

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures won’t be the busiest of all, but it promises to have some drama as bottom-dwellers Bournemouth and Watford face off, while Manchester City travel to Villa Park.

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Bournemouth vs. Watford — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN

It might be difficult to admit, but Nigel Pearson‘s arrival at Watford has done wonders for the club.

The Hornets secured 10 out of the possible 12 points during the festive period, putting the upwards-trending club two points within reach of escaping the drop zone. Throughout that same stretch of four matches, Pearson and company have outscored opponent’s eight goals to two.

The 56-year-old, who last coached Belgium’s Oud-Heverlee Leuven, is implementing an effective and pragmatic 4-2-3-1 system. But perhaps the reason behind the escape trick isn’t solely based on on-field adjustments, but on the emotional investment that the manager is putting forward.

“I’ve been asked a few times already about whether I had still got enthusiasm or the drive or whatever it is to continue to work, and those are the sorts of questions that I’ve asked myself for sure,” he said leading up to Sunday’s match.

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think we were capable of getting out of the situation that we’re in, but I can’t ask people to be committed if I’m not committed myself, so all those things are very important to me and I think this club has got a really strong identity and there’s potential for us to rediscover what we are as a football club.

“I do feel attached to being a part of that and trying to rediscover that.”

Eddie Howe‘s Bournemouth, on the other hand, are on the opposite site of the spectrum, falling instead of climbing up the table.

Ravaged by injuries, the Cherries picked up a sole point throughout the same span of four matches. Howe, desperate to animate his team (and supporters), is urging for Dean Court to get loud and hostile again – like in the past.

“Teams used to really fear coming here, a tight ground and a great atmosphere,” Howe said. “We now need that feeling back, which only we can create as a team.

“We’ve had good battles with Watford and I imagine this game will be tight again – our motivation levels have to be higher than theirs.”

INJURIES: Bournemouth — OUT: Danjuma (ankle), King (hamstring), Stacey (hamstring), Brooks (ankle), Daniels (knee) | Watford — OUT: Hughes (groin), Janmaat (knee), Cleverley (calf), Welbeck (hamstring), Femenía (hamstring) Prödl (calf)

Aston Villa vs. Manchester City — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Everything is moving at hyperspeed for Aston Villa, and they probably don’t want it that way.

Days after earning a laudable draw against Leicester City in the semi-final of the EFL Cup, Dean Smith and company host back-to-back champions Manchester City. It wasn’t too long ago that Villa lost Wesley and Tom Heaton to season-ending injuries, either.

Smith recognizes at what speed the challenging hurdles are coming at, but instead preaches for concentration from his players.

“We played the second-placed team in the cup and now we’re playing the team that are third and have won back-to-back titles,” the 48-year-old said. “They have a world-class coach and world-class players, they can afford to spend £50m on a right back, so we know the test.”

“They have had some off days this season – they got beat at Norwich and Wolves – so we must have belief in ourselves, as well as concentration.”

Fresh off a 3-1 victory over rivals Manchester United, the sense is that Manchester City are finally finding their groove again.

Pep Guardiola and his team may be out of contention for a third straight title, but they have a lot to prove with the EFL Cup and Champions League still up for grabs. In fact, Sunday’s match against Villa may well be a preview of the EFL Cup final.

“We have to play all the teams. Sometimes they’re at the top, sometimes in the middle, sometimes at the bottom. It’s a historic club,” Guardiola said prior to Sunday’s match. “They changed their last set-up in the last game. We’ll try to maintain the dynamic we have.”

INJURIES: Aston Villa — OUT: Davis (hamstring), Steer (achilles), Heaton (knee), Wesley (knee), McGinn (foot) | Manchester City OUT: Laporte (knee), Sané (knee) (knee)

Solskjaer bemoans poor Man United first half performance

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Manchester United seemed to be holding up strong defensively early as Manchester City attacked with the ball in the first leg of the League Cup semifinal on Tuesday.

Then, Bernardo Silva unleashed a moment of brilliance in the 17th minute, and for the next 28 minutes, Man United crumbled as Man City built up a 3-0 halftime lead.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

“From their goal until half-time, that is the worst that we have played,” Man United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer told Sky Sports. “From the first goal to half-time we just could not cope with that setback. We were running in between. The pressure didn’t work and we let them play. Our heads dropped. We just made decisions that we should not do.”

Whatever the gameplan was, it appeared that either the players were incapable of executing it, or they lacked the ability to do so. Man City players constantly found time and space to turn and attack the Man United defense, and Man United struggled to string more than a few passes together at a time in the first half.

The team, even with Paul Pogba fit and in the lineup, lacks a strong, vocal leader like Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes or Gary Neville to get everyone on the same page while on the field. Instead, as Solskjaer mentioned, players are dropping their heads and not pressuring the ball, leading to more goals.

After likely lighting into his team at halftime, Solskjaer said he did get a response from his team.

“That needed sorting at half-time… Someone needed to take the responsibility and we did that in the second half,” Solskjaer said. “When you come in at half-time with that result then pride is one word that you speak about. Make sure you win the second half and you are in the tie. Of course, it’s a difficult task that we have got in front of us but that second half at least gives us something to hang on to. After that second half, we have got something that we believe in.”

Preview: Man Utd v. Man City — EFL Cup semis, leg 1

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has revealed that a number of key Manchester United figures are either hobbled or unwell ahead of Tuesday’s EFL Cup semifinal clash with Manchester City (3 p.m. ET) at Old Trafford, lamenting the fact their first leg wasn’t the one to fall on Wednesday instead.

[ MORE: Lingard to be represented by controversial agent Raiola ]

According to Solskjaer, the last two days were meant for a few players — Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw — to spend “a night or two in their own beds” accompanied by a combination of homemade remedies and prescription cures to recover from the illness which kept each of them out of Saturday’s FA Cup draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers. No such luck, though, as Solskjaer has admitted that “some of them are still not ready.”

“We’re going to give them as much time as we can, that’s the most honest answer I can give you. If there was a game today, I’m not sure they could play at their best.

“Another 36 hours might be a big change.”

Add the unwell stars to the list of injured players who’ll miss Tuesday’s game — Paul Pogba, Scott McTominay and Eric Bailly — and what was already going to be an uphill battle for the Red Devils becomes that much steeper.

[ MORE: Captain Aubameyang says transfer rumors are “made up” ]

Pep Guardiola, who’s got his own selection headaches with Aymeric Laporte (knee) and perhaps Nicolas Otamendi (illness) still unavailable, is looking at Tuesday’s Cup derby as the biggest game remaining this season, not only because it’s against Man United, but because it’s Man City’s fastest route to a trophy. With the Premier League title seemingly gone to Liverpool already (the Reds lead City by 14 with 17 games left to play), Guardiola is focused on picking up any and every other trophy available to his squad between now and the end of May.

Despite the fact they’ll likely relinquish the PL title after a two-year reign, City could still finish the 2019-20 season with three trophies. Still, the rivalry with United remains front and center in his mind, as he made a bold proclamation regarding his feelings for the other side of Manchester — quotes from the Guardian:

“After training City, I will never train them. I would not train [Real] Madrid [after Barcelona]. I’d be in the Maldives if I don’t have any offers. Maybe not the Maldives, because it doesn’t have any golf courses.”

The two sides have already met once this season, with United besting City 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium, which will host the second leg on Jan. 29, back in early December.