‘I couldn’t sleep’: Manchester City do feel pressure, says Kyle Walker

‘i couldn’t sleep’: manchester city do feel pressure, says kyle walker

Erling Haaland and Kyle Walker celebrate after Haaland’s penalty wrapped up their win at Spurs. Photograph: Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Kyle Walker revealed he did not sleep the night before and was left “scrambling” for a half-hour power nap on game-day, while Pep Guardiola said he had “suffered” throughout. This was only a snapshot of the emotions felt by Manchester City players and management leading up to and during their pivotal match at Tottenham on Tuesday night.

It is easy to see City as a machine; the eviscerating runs to Premier League title after title; No 6 under Guardiola and an unprecedented fourth-in-a-row now close after the 2-0 victory over Spurs. City have made a cold-hearted business out of the accumulation of silverware and records.

The human cost is not always apparent. It has all been too clinical, particularly when the 115 charges for financial irregularities that they club face are factored in. City deny wrongdoing. They have certainly been romance killers, but to listen to Walker and Guardiola after the Spurs game was to appreciate the sacrifices, the nervous energy and, yes, the self-doubt.

It was there and it will doubtless be a part of things when City look to secure the title against West Ham at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday. They kick-off two points clear of second-place Arsenal, whose final game is at home to Everton. Mikel Arteta’s side have a +1 goal difference advantage, meaning that a draw for City might not be enough.

City were not at their best against Spurs, who were aggressive throughout; innovative, too. Ange Postecoglou unveiled a hitherto unseen plan B with a box midfield and two wide strikers – call it 4-2-2-2, or maybe 4-2-4-0. It almost yielded a famous result, although maybe infamous would be a better description given the narrative around the possibility of them aiding Arsenal. City got over the line. They were still good enough.

“Maybe people forget we are humans and the emotion, the nerves, the adrenaline … it’s all running through your body,” Walker said. “I couldn’t sleep on Monday night. I was scrambling to get half an hour at the hotel on Tuesday. And then everything is going through your head.

“You want the game to start. It’s excitement but it’s nerves. It’s not unusual for me … there have been numerous nights where I can’t sleep because I’m excited for the game. If you don’t like playing in these games you shouldn’t play football.”

“A lot of the time we get the result we want and the players work their socks off,” added the England defender. “People see the Instagram and whatever but nobody sees the hard graft that these lads dedicate themselves to live every day – when we’re competing in all the competitions, travelling here, there and everywhere.

“It’s hard work. I’m not saying Arsenal don’t do that. They do because I know Mikel [Arteta] and the lads there. Whoever wins the Premier League come Sunday deserves to win it so may the best team win.”

It was a strange night at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, the atmosphere subdued, the Spurs support wrapped up in existential crisis. How could this be, Postecoglou wondered, because had his team won they would have moved close to a Champions League finish. The Spurs manager would rage afterwards about mentality, although he seemed to spare the players, who competed hard.

“I suffered from minute one,” Guardiola said. “The people suspected that, no, Spurs don’t want to give Arsenal the title. It was completely the opposite.”

City last lost in the league on 6 December at Aston Villa. Their record since then reads: P22 W18 D4. They have won eight successive games in the competition, scoring 30 goals. Against Spurs, though, a draw would have felt like a defeat and it came down to moments.

Phil Foden and Kevin De Bruyne made things happen for City; Jérémy Doku, on as a substitute, as well. Erling Haaland provided the cutting edge. But as important was the resistance of the back-up goalkeeper, Stefan Ortega, who came on for the injured Ederson in the 69th minute and, at 1-0, made huge one-on-one saves to deny the Spurs substitute, Dejan Kulusevski, and Son Heung-min.

Ortega was the example in terms of attitude, dead-eyed concentration. When Son ran through in the 86th minute, Guardiola admitted he had seen the movie before. Son has been on the winning Spurs team eight times against his City, scoring eight goals. Guardiola crouched to the ground, hands up against his head. When Ortega saved, Guardiola rolled onto his back.

“What did I say?” he asked. “Oh God! Do you know how many times Son punish us in the last seven, eight years? Can I tell you how many goals he scores against us, with Harry Kane? Oh my God. And I said: ‘No. Once again!’ But Stefan made an incredible save.”

Guardiola had been introduced to Sir Alex Ferguson’s famous phrase – squeaky bum time – on Monday and he needed to have it explained to him. He gets it now. “OK, Sir Alex Ferguson … I know what he means,” Guardiola said. “But it’s normal. Look at Arsenal. They didn’t play their best at Manchester United on Sunday [in the 1-0 win]. They know if they lose or draw, they will not be champions. And you don’t play your best.

“Our final for the Champions League last season [the 1-0 win over Internazionale]? Pfff. It was not good. We felt it [the pressure]. Win the title again, four times [in a row], the circumstances … When you play football thinking more about the consequences of if we don’t win rather than playing the game itself, it happens. That’s why the greatest players perform the best in these circumstances.”

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