MAN CITY CAN’T AFFORD TO DROP POINTS IN TITLE RACE- GUARDIOLA
City had seized top spot when they won 3-1 at Arsenal recently, but a 1-1 draw at Nottingham Forest allowed Mikel Arteta’s team to regain top spot.
The champions routed Bournemouth 4-1 on Saturday to stay in the hunt, just hours after Arsenal’s 1-0 win at Leicester.
But with City having to come from behind in their bid to win a fifth title in six seasons, Guardiola knows they have no margin for error.
“I have the feeling in the Premier League many things are going to happen. Everyone is going to drop points but we cannot drop any if we are going to fight until the end,” Guardiola told reporters on Monday.
Guardiola’s men travel to second-tier Bristol City in the FA Cup fifth round on Tuesday before returning to their title defence with a potentially tricky test against Newcastle on Saturday.
City have been unusually inconsistent for much of this season, giving Arsenal the opportunity to take pole position.
Yet Guardiola insists City are still competing to the standard he demands, regardless of their occasional slip-ups.
“The game we are playing is good. The results could be better – in terms of winning at Spurs or Nottingham – but sometimes that happens,” he said.
“Of course it’s not exceptional, it’s OK, it’s good, but I don’t have complaints with the way we are playing and fighting.
“I said after the last game against Bournemouth that the mood in the locker room is exceptional and the guys are doing everything, and that’s enough for me.”
Bristol City have not lost since Boxing Day and Guardiola has no intention of taking victory for granted against Nigel Pearson’s side as he seeks to avoid an FA Cup upset.
“Last 12 games no defeat, that gives me a lot of info. It means they are there,” he said.
“My scouts say they are good team, the manager has a lot of experience. He did really well at Leicester and Watford.
“The FA Cup is an important competition, really important. It’s a serious team that is going to play tomorrow.”
There could be a rare chance for City midfielder Kalvin Phillips to start on Tuesday after a frustrating campaign for the England international.
Phillips has started just one game following his move from Leeds last year, struggling with injuries before being criticised by Guardiola for being overweight.
“Kalvin is adapting and adjusting a little bit. Some players need a bit more time,” Guardiola said.
“I have the feeling he needs a little bit more time to learn more about our rhythm, but it was so important for him to play the minutes he played at Bournemouth for the rhythm.”
FIFA CHANGES WORLD CUP FORMAT FROM 2026
The world football governing body, FIFA, confirmed on Tuesday that the 2026 FIFA World Cup would retain the four-team group’s format as seen in the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
Initially, the plan was that there would be 16 groups of three teams at the 2026 FIFA World Cup, which will be held in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. This is because the tournament has been expanded from 32 teams to 48 teams for the first time in the tournament’s history.
However, the world football governing body changed its mind since the Qatar 2022 World Cup’s four-team format was a success.
This decision was made at the Fifa council meeting in Rwanda on Tuesday.
The expanded edition of the World Cup starting in 2026 means that the number of matches will increase from the anticipated 80 to 104, including a new round-of-32 stage.
The top two teams and the eight best third-placed teams, according to Fifa, would advance to the round of 32.
“The revised format mitigates the risk of collusion and ensures that all the teams play a minimum of three matches while providing balanced rest time between competing teams,” FIFA announced on Tuesday.
Fifa’s president, Gianni Infantino, announced in December that the association was considering a format change after the group stages in Qatar saw several exciting games.
The four-team group system has been in use since the men’s World Cup’s expansion to 32 teams in 1998, with the top two teams moving on to the knockout rounds.
Under the new round-of-32 format, teams will need to play eight matches to win the competition, up from seven at the 2022 World Cup.
Based on the new schedule that Fifa approved for men’s international games from 2025 to 2030, the Fifa World Cup 2026 final will take place on Sunday, July 19, 2026.
ENYEAMA WINS BEST AFRICAN GOALKEEPER OF ALL TIME
Nigeria Ex-International and veteran goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama has been named Best African Goalkeeper of All Time by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS).
This ranking takes into consideration the year 1987 to 2022 and was determined by the total points scored by each Goalkeepers as per their annual world ranking during their stints.
According to IFFHS, specific points was allocated to the “Top 20” Goalkeepers for each year. The first-placed receives 20 points, the second-placed 19 points, the third-placed 18 points… and a point for twentieth place. If the annual world ranking comprises more than 20 goalkeepers, then the goalkeepers from 21st place onwards receive no points.
In line with this, Enyeama surpassed other legendary goalkeepers from Africa, including Essam El-Hadary (Egypt’s and four times AFCON winning Goalkeeper).
The IFFHS ALL TIME RANKING (1987 – 2022)
Best UEFA Goalkeeper
Gianluigi Buffon (Italy)
Best CONMEBOL Goalkeeper
Jose Luis Chilavert (Paraguay)
Best AFC Goalkeeper
Mohamed Abdullaziz Al-Deayea (Saudi Arabia)
Best CAF Goalkeeper
Vincent Enyeama (Nigeria)
Best CONCACAF Goalkeeper
Keylor Navas (Costa Rica)
Best Oceania Goalkeeper
Mark Bosnich (Australia)
AFCON MOST DIFFICULT TOURNEY TO WIN – FINIDI
Enyimba coach and 1994 AFCON winner, George Finidi, who also doubles as assistant coach of the Super Eagles, talks about coaching the most successful club in Nigeria as well as the chances of NPFL players in the senior national team, in this interview with ABIODUN ADEWALE
Your team Enyimba are second in Group A at the end of the first stanza. How would you rate your performance this season?
We are in a very tough group where we have most of the best teams in the country. But at the moment, we are second and I think so far so good, the boys have been responding and we hope to keep the momentum. It’s not going to be easy; every team wants to be in the top three, and our aim is to make sure we are among them. Hopefully we will achieve that.
How would you also describe your first season as a coach in the NPFL?
First season, I will say that is gone. I will say we didn’t get what we wanted in terms of classification, but I think we played some good football. However, if the objective was not achieved, then you must say it was a bad season, but we all learnt from that and try to be better this season and get the job done.
Which NPFL team has given you a tough time since you took over Enyimba?
I can’t really say a team has given us a tough time. We have competed favourably even in matches that we lost. We have not been outplayed when a team played Enyimba and won the match. We have lost some matches as a result of little details and concentration, so we will try and put that into our training programme before the second stanza, so that we don’t commit those little errors again.
You played in the NPFL as well, looking back, what are the advancements and areas that still need improvement in the Nigerian league?
From my time to the present state, there’s been a lot of improvement. I think particularly with the teams and some facilities. There are other areas that need improvement but I think overall we are getting there.
As one of the assistant coaches of the Super Eagles, would you beat your chest for some of the NPFL players to be included in the national team?
As assistant coaches of the Super Eagles, our job is to contribute and help the head coach. He needs our support and we will give him. If there are players that are good enough that we see and can make it, not just to go to the camp and come back, but go there and make an impact, we will give him that advice and we will make sure we get the best out of the players. We are all watching, not just me, and we are looking at bringing one or two or even five players into the fold. There are lots of good players in the league, but we will see who is ready to go. Once we see that, we will be able to do what is necessary.
Eagles play Guinea Bissau in an AFCON qualifier this month and a lot of people think the coaches don’t have to invite overseas-based players. Do you feel the same way?
For the game against Guinea Bissau, if it’s necessary, we have to mix the team, bring some home-based players and overseas-based players and see how we can get the result. But this notion that no player abroad should be invited is not totally a good idea. I will always say that if we see players that are capable of going there and making an impact, we will give them that opportunity. It’s always nice to mix the players, we will see how everything goes.
It’s been 10 years since Nigeria last won the AFCON. How important is it for you to win it for Nigeria again, as a member of the technical crew?
I must tell you the AFCON is the toughest tournament to play and win. Most people feel AFCON should be won every two years, but if it was that easy, no one would cherish it anymore. It’s been a long time but we will work towards it and see if we can win the next edition.
Ex-Eagles coach Clemens Westerhof had a huge impact on Nigerian footbal. What lessons have you picked from him now that you are a coach yourself?
Personally, I think Westerhof did a good job in his time with Nigeria. At the same time, I have worked with so many coaches that have impacted my way of life and my career. From Westerhof to every coach I played under, even the ones I played under from Louis Van Gaal to Guus Hiddink and Shuaibu Amodu, I’ve learnt a lot and I try to imbibe one or two things into my own way as well.
What were your highest and lowest moments while representing Nigeria?
The highest moment in my Super Eagles days was winning the AFCON in 1994, while the lowest I will say will be not beating Italy in the second round of the World Cup in 1994 as well.
At club level, you won the UEFA Champions League with Ajax as well as other titles in Europe. If you place them side-by-side with your national team medals, which one is the most precious?
If I have to pick between all the titles I’ve won for club and country, I would say the AFCON medal is the most valuable while I will call the Champions League precious.
Finally, what is it going to feel like to lead Enyimba to another CAF Champions League glory in the nearest future and do you have plans of returning to Europe anytime soon?
For Enyimba, it’s one step at a time. Our focus now is getting to the Super Six, once that one is achieved, we will compete for the Top Three and then we can begin to talk about what to do on the continent. But yes, it will be great to achieve everything achievable with the club. I’m in Nigeria at the moment, I don’t know if I’m going back. But as a coach, you can find yourself anywhere. I don’t know what the future holds for me but I will try and enjoy my time here at home and whatever happens in the future will depend on the result I can achieve here. So, I will keep working hard to be better. I’m thinking about what I can do today and who knows what will happen tomorrow? I’m not thinking about going back to Europe, I’m just focused on my job here.
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