By Andy Hampson, PA
Pep Guardiola has joked Manchester United fans should wear Manchester City shirts as his side look to hold off Liverpool and retain the Premier League title.
This season has been a tough watch for United supporters, with frustration at their own side’s inconsistency exacerbated by the fact their two most bitter rivals have been duelling for the title.
When it comes to choosing between the lesser of two evils, however, it would appear a majority of United fans would rather that – albeit through gritted teeth – City pipped the Merseysiders.
A Liverpool triumph would see the Anfield club equal United’s record of 20 domestic title wins.
City hold the advantage heading into Sunday’s final round of games, knowing that victory over Aston Villa will secure top spot regardless of Liverpool’s result against Wolves.
“So United likes City more than Liverpool?” said Guardiola when preferences were pointed out to him at a press conference.
“Oh my God, I didn’t know it! Is it true? So I was wrong when I said everyone wants Liverpool to win in this country!
“Welcome, if (you) want to join (us) in the street… but they have to wear a blue shirt!”
City missed the chance to effectively seal the title when they were held to a 2-2 draw at West Ham last weekend.
Yet, after battling back from 2-0 down, the result ensured that City have a one-point lead that, coupled with a superior goal difference, makes them strong favourites.
It would be their fourth title in five seasons and their sixth in the past decade, underlining City’s recent dominance on the domestic front.
Guardiola said: “When I arrived the people here said the Premier League is so difficult, it is the toughest one, different (teams) win every one.
“Just Sir Alex Ferguson at United was able to do – three or four times – four in five years.
“When it happens you realise the magnitude of United in this period.
“So, we are close to doing and being part of that and we have to try to take it.”
The intensity of this absorbing title race will have taken its toll on the players, but Guardiola has no doubt, whatever the outcome, his players will be back and firing for next season.
He said: “I think the competition itself makes this energy come.
“If you tell me now that next season (starts) tomorrow I would say, ‘No, please, give me a break’, but the moment we start the pre-season, new players and the first opponent, second one and all these kind of things, then the energy bounces back.
“I’m pretty sure we will be there again to try to be able to (be an) opponent for our rivals.”