John Stones and Kyle Walker are back in contention for Manchester City’s final Premier League game of the season, Pep Guardiola has confirmed.
The pair had been expected to miss the remainder of the season with thigh and ankle injuries respectively but have made quicker-than-expected recoveries.
Both returned to training on Thursday and are in manager Pep Guardiola’s thoughts as he looks to close out a fourth league crown in five seasons.
“We have incredible doctors and physios and they have recovered,” Guardiola said at his pre-match press conference. “They made a partial training and we will see tomorrow. It is good for us to have them back.”
City, who have a one-point lead at the top of the table, head into the clash against Aston Villa knowing victory will be enough to retain the title regardless of second-placed Liverpool’s result against Wolves.
News of the pair’s return is a lift for City after weeks of defensive fitness problems. Ruben Dias remains sidelined while Aymeric Laporte and Fernandinho – who has played as a makeshift defender – have also had issues.
Villa head coach Steven Gerrard has the opportunity to do his former club, Liverpool, a huge favour by taking points off City on Sunday.
Guardiola was asked if he would have an extra incentive to win if it would result in a league title for Barcelona, responding (quotes via Manchester Evening News): “We did it, we won two times. In these situations it wasn’t in our hands. Madrid lost a game. Tomorrow it’s nice to have the chance to win at home.
“It’s completely different, we cannot compare. We’re in different positions. Both teams try to win. Sometimes you can’t control. I said to the players it’s just a football game, don’t focus on anything else. If you think about it being one more title, it’s a football game.
“Ings and Watkins, how we face this process, Luiz as a holding midfielder, Digne moving inside or outside, this is what we think about. I’m sure our people will be as one. I have a feeling our supporters will be incredible.
“As a club we haven’t been here many times. Anxious, nervous? No way. If we concede or struggle, come on, try again, continue and do it. It’s the best way to approach this kind of situation. Not ‘what happens if we lose?’ What is the movement and set pieces of Villa? This is the only way, all that matters.”
Jack Grealish has the opportunity to win his first Premier League crown against his ex-club, months after he was booed on his return to Villa Park.
Guardiola says he has not spoke to the England international about it, despite it being a large talking point in the media.
“I didn’t speak with him,” the Spaniard said. “I can if you want? I’m sure he maybe helped for Villa to be promoted to the Premier League and remaining in the Premier League for two seasons. For him, never won the Premier League, he must be so excited. We’d be happy to have one, my advice to him is to be happy as possible playing football.
“The feeling after 2-3 days, all the effort, your name on the list [of honours]. If he’s comfortable getting better it’s the most important. In one year, we defend and be champions. Next year someone has to take it off us. On Sunday, in one year we see if he retains it or plays every game next season, it’s nice.”
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