Pep Guardiola warns Erling Haaland of ‘tainted’ Jesse Marsch praise

Pep Guardiola suspects mind games after Leeds manager Jesse Marsch texted Erling Haaland and saluted his former striker ahead of Manchester City clash

Pep Guardiola is sure Erling Haaland will not fall for Jesse Marsch’s charm offensive when Manchester City travel to Leeds on Wednesday night.

Leeds boss Marsch, who managed Haaland at Red Bull Salzburg, spoke about the City striker ahead of their Elland Road reunion, prompting a wry response from Guardiola. “I hope that Erling is not contaminated by the beautiful words of the opponent”, said the Spaniard.

“They want to win, we want to win. They will put pressure on their team and it won’t be a friendly.” However, Guardiola’s biggest problem is not whether Haaland will be put off by Marsch’s pre-match praise, but keeping his striker fit for the remainder of the season.

Haaland suffered a foot injury playing against former club Borussia Dortmund in October and is still struggling with the aftermath of the problem, according to Guardiola. Although the striker scored in City’s 3-2 EFL Cup win over Liverpool to take his tally to 24 for the season, he was substituted in the 73rd minute, with Guardiola revealing he is still having to manage his foot injury.

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“The injury is completely different from the one he had last season,” Guardiola said of Haaland’s problem. “It was a blow to his foot in Dortmund when we played them in the Champions League. The doctor said that he has damaged the ligaments in his foot and it is very painful. It’s not easy to recover, so he fought.

“But now it’s much, much better. Now, it’s a matter of time. Of course we need him, I think he’ll be ready. Day by day he is improving. He can train and he will get his condition back [back].”

Guardiola said a trip to Leeds was one of the toughest matches City could face in their first Premier League game after the six-week World Cup break.

“Leeds is one of the toughest games,” said Guardiola. “I would have preferred another opponent than Leeds at that moment after the World Cup.

“They are the most aggressive team in the Premier League, statistically. They don’t give you time to think and you have to be so precise, you have to be at such a high level.”

Guardiola said City striker Julian Alvarez had returned to the Champions League as a more complete player following his role in Argentina’s World Cup victory in Qatar.

“Julian doesn’t need to play in a World Cup or win it for us to know exactly what he is like as a player,” said Guardiola. “For him it is absoluuuuuuuuuuuuuuuutely unbelievable, at his age, to be world champion. Thanks to Argentina, he will come back better as a player.

“This is magnificent for us, and after that we’ll see what happens, day by day. But it’s important to have him with that amount of games, with injuries, so having Julian is very important.

“Having lived that experience, playing under pressure in the quarterfinals, semifinals and final – a game where you are either in or out – those kinds of games, what an experience for him.”

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