Pep Guardiola has warned his Manchester City team will be undercooked for the return of the Premier League because they were given “not enough” time to prepare.
The former Barcelona boss is poised to see his City team officially dethroned as champions by Liverpool, and on top of that says his stars are not up to handling the intensive demands posed by the restart.
Guardiola, whose mother Dolors died after contracting Covid-19, will take charge of City against Arsenal when English football resumes on Wednesday after three months in lockdown.
He is relishing the Etihad Stadium reunion with his former City number two Mikel Arteta, who left to take charge of Arsenal in December, and hopes they can enjoy a post-match drink together.
And while Guardiola is hopeful his team can be competitive, he says rotation of his squad over the remaining weeks of the season will be imperative.
City will be back in action on Monday against Burnley, and the games will come thick and fast after the condensing of the schedule.
“If you ask me how the team is, I don’t know,” Guardiola said. “Tomorrow we will see the level. From there, we are going to see and suggest what we can do better.”
He said the big worry since teams were allowed to train again was the “lack of preparation” they were afforded before games returned – “not like in Germany or Spain where they worked five or six weeks”.
“All Premier League teams have three weeks,” Guardiola said. “Of course we know it is not enough but it is what it is.
“We are ready to play one game, but three days after another, four days after another, we are not ready. That’s why you have to rotate. But we have to start, we have to finish the season, because the damage economically can be reduced.”
The same circumstances seem sure to apply to Arsenal, who have not lost a match in domestic football in 2020.
Guardiola said he was “so excited” to see Arteta, describing his fellow Spaniard as “one of the nicest people I have ever met” and “an incredibly important part of our success”.
He would love to be able to share an evening tipple with Arteta but was unsure if that would be permitted.
“We sent a message one hour and a half ago. I can’t tell you what that message said. It’s about the wine we’re going to drink after the game, if social distance allows us to drink,” Guardiola said.
Guardiola has had to grieve during football’s absence, and he said: “All the people who have been lost are important.”
And he stressed “not even the best scientists in the world” had realised what a toll Covid-19 would take.
“At the end, the Premier League like in Spain and Germany, like other countries, decide we have to play, so we are going to play. We are going to adapt as quick as possible,” Guardiola added.