Guardiola 'not surprised at all' by Man Utd challenge: 'It's normal'

Manchester City FC

Pep Guardiola always expected Manchester United would challenge Manchester City again as the sides head into Saturday's derby separated by only four points.

That gap was eight points after their previous meeting in early October, which City sensationally won 6-3 at the Etihad Stadium.

But United are the Premier League's form team, winning 15 of their subsequent 18 games in all competitions and losing just once.

Erik ten Hag has improved the Old Trafford outfit to the point they could really pile the pressure on second-placed City with a victory this weekend.

Guardiola was asked about United's progress ahead of that match and replied: "It's normal. A new manager arrived, many things must be settled, then the improvement of the team is clear.

"It's not just in terms of results, it's everything."

United have improved "a lot", he accepted, but a Red Devils revival was always on the cards at some stage.

"What happened in the previous seasons is a Man United problem, so I don't know, but now it's normal that United is there," Guardiola said. "Still there, top, fighting.

"The position is there because it's the position Man United has to be.

"For me, did they surprise me? No. Must be there? Yes. Alongside the other teams? Yes. That's why this competition is so difficult, but I'm not surprised at all."

Guardiola, entering his 500th top-flight match as a coach, said earlier in the week he had "a few ideas, thoughts, ridiculous ones" for taking on United, but he was in less entertaining mood following an EFL Cup exit to Southampton.

"A joke," he said of those comments. "It was a joke."

With the defeat to Saints fresh in his mind, denying him a fifth success in that competition, Guardiola was similarly unimpressed by discussion of the title race as City head into the weekend five points behind leaders Arsenal.

"It's not a knockout game, so there are many games still to play," he answered on the topic.

"Yes, it's important, it's always important against United, but it's a football game like many that are going to happen in the future.