To Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, surrendering the English Premier League title on the final day of the season would not detract from his team’s brilliant year.
After all, Guardiola said on Friday, City was still on course to win every trophy possible with just a few weeks left in the season.
But he knows the flak that will fly his and City’s way if they don’t finish the job on Sunday, just like after the Champions League elimination by Tottenham last month.
“Everybody destroyed the team, destroyed the manager, destroyed the club, (even though) they are doing well,” Guardiola said. “We know, in the life in which we live, we will be judged. So we have to win.”
That’s exactly what City’s players have been doing for the last 3 1/2 months. Thirteen straight league victories have left them within one more of back-to-back league titles for the first time, and a fourth championship in eight seasons. It would a sixth top-flight title, putting City tied for sixth on England’s overall list.
All they need to do is beat Brighton, a team in fourth-to-last place and with little to play for after securing its survival last weekend.
Guardiola remains wary.
“There is more pressure because one mistake on our side, one incredible performance on the other side, one mistake from the referee on us or against us, can decide the title,” he said. “That’s why you have to be more precise and more good in the aspects we have been working on these last three years.
“In a game, anything can happen.”
The past few days have highlighted this perfectly.
From Vincent Kompany’s wonder strike in City’s 1-0 win over Leicester to Liverpool’s 4-0 trouncing of Barcelona in the Champions League and Tottenham’s last-gasp exploits at Ajax in the same competition, it has been a breathtaking few days across the Premier League and in Europe.
Is there room for one more pinch-yourself moment at Amex Stadium?
It would require an unlikely turn of events for Brighton to produce an upset, given City’s recent form and the fact the hosts haven’t won a match in any competition since early March.
Guardiola has also seen nothing to suggest his players will collapse under the pressure.
“I saw the team relaxed, training good, smile a lot, completely focused in the training sessions and when we spoke in the meetings,” Guardiola said.
“First of all, it’s a dream to be here. I honestly didn’t expect a (few months) ago, when we were seven points behind against this Liverpool, to be in the position we are in. I didn’t expect it.”
Guardiola said he will not be paying attention to the game involving title rival Liverpool, which is a point behind in second place going into its home game — taking place simultaneously — against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
“If we win, we don’t have to look at anything else,” he said. “Why should you be distracted with anything else?”
Potentially helping City’s cause is the return to fitness of midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, who is back in training after a hamstring problem.
Guardiola said the Belgium international, who has been plagued with injury this season, “could” play against Brighton, but ruled out fellow midfielder Fernandinho.
He will still have at his disposal Bernardo Silva, the little playmaker Guardiola said should have been voted the player of the season in England — ahead of Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk and City winger Raheem Sterling — and could get in any team in the world “by far.”
“Give me one team, he will play well there,” Guardiola said. “So clever, so smart, nice guy. He does everything well.”