Pep Guardiola is just wasting his time with digs aimed at Everton

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MAY 14: Sean Dyche, Manager of Everton, and Pep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City, gives the teams instructions during the Premier League match between Everton FC and Manchester City at Goodison Park on May 14, 2023 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Mind games are nothing new in football and Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola will have known precisely what he was doing when he spoke ahead of this weekend’s title-deciding games. But if he felt he needed to provoke Everton into making his life easier, then he need not have bothered.

There is no doubt Arsenal will provide a major test for the Blues on Sunday and the Emirates has been a miserable hunting ground over recent seasons. But Sean Dyche is not a manager of sentiment and has spent this week reminding his players they still have a job to do.

“‘If you think Everton are going to do something [against Arsenal] , forget about it,” Guardiola said as his Man City side head into the final round of games needing to better the result of Mikel Arteta’s Gunners to be crowned champions for a fourth consecutive time.

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It is easy to read this as a dig at the Blues but in reality it is just a seasoned manager doing everything he can to try and heap the pressure on his rivals.

Everton visited north London in similar circumstances two years ago, the hangover from the survival-clinching win against Crystal Palace days earlier still pounding and Arsenal fighting for the final Champions League spot. Then manager Frank Lampard rang the changes with Jordan Pickford given the day off for Asmir Begovic and Dele making his first start at his former club’s fiercest rivals - for which he was booed throughout. The result followed expectations when the line-ups were announced.

The Blues have obvious ties with Arteta and it is not unreasonable to think Andre Gomes might get one final start before his departure from the club, nor that Dyche might take a look at either Beto or Youssef Chermiti ahead of Dominic Calvert-Lewin. But Gomes has been genuinely involved in first-team action since Christmas and Dyche is not expected to depart from his favoured stars. “I don’t play people for the sake of playing them,” he said at Finch Farm ahead of the weekend. “I play to win. That won’t change.”

That might not make a difference - the Blues were helpless at the Emirates last season, just weeks after a morale-boosting win against the same opposition in Dyche’s first game as the club's manager. Guardiola need not worry that Dyche will abandon his defences though. His options to change things are limited anyway but he chose not to make wholesale switches for the home game with Sheffield United last week and is aware of the monetary value of holding off Brentford to try and stay 15th.

For his part. Dyche has paid no attention to the build-up to the weekend and focused solely on his own squad. “My point is I have tried to lay it down all season, and recently it has worked, that we want to take on every game no matter who we are playing against. It is a tough ask but at the end of the day we have shown we can beat teams of that ilk. Let's take this one on. It is for others to worry about what goes on. Certainly not us. We have to play our part for ourselves, Everton Football Club, it is certainly not about Arsenal or Man City or West Ham for that matter.”