City and United had finished level on 66 points when Guardiola and Jose Mourinho arrived in Manchester during the summer of 2016. Since then, the blue half has pulled clear, finishing 32 points ahead of their rivals last season and 15 points ahead in the current campaign.
‘I never expected to have this gap between us and United in these three or four years,’ said Guardiola, who heads to Old Trafford on Sunday with a 100 per cent Premier League record at United’s stadium.
Pep Guardiola has admitted his surprise at how far Man United are behind his Man City side
United and City were level on points when the Spaniard and Jose Mourinho arrived in 2016
‘I’ve no doubt about the quality of United and I appreciate the manager (Ole Gunnar Solskjaer). He represents them in an exceptional way.
‘United are working to improve and get closer to the people above them but Manchester City wants to improve also and the distance is what it is.’
City have been accused of buying their success and are under UEFA investigation for breaching Financial Fair Play rules.
Yet United have the largest wage bill in the country and have signed three players Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku and Harry Maguire for more money than City’s £61million record signing, Rodri.
Guardiola also heaped praise on the job done by current United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Guardiola is firm in his belief that the research City do before signing players has served them well – winning the last two Premier Leagues and last season’s domestic Treble.
Eleven clubs around Europe, including four from the Premier League, have bought players for larger fees than Rodri who just creeps into the top 25 of the world’s most expensive signings.
‘They say “That’s just Manchester City spending money” but of course it’s not true. Just look at the numbers,’ said Guardiola.
‘When it comes to expensive players we are ranking 23 and 24 but the club has a bad image on that. The important thing is to buy good players who fit in to the way you want to play, and their character.
The Spaniard again defended the club’s spending and spoke of the acquisition of Rodri
‘You take all the information you can about the player to reduce the uncertainty of him going to a new club.
‘Maybe one day it will happen (spending £80million on one player), maybe not.
Guardiola approves of the rebuilding job Solskjaer is doing at United, which has included two wins at The Etihad this season. He claims he’s not happy to see star striker Marcus Rashford missing with a back injury. ‘I like to play against a full squad,’ he said.
City have recently won matches at the world-famous Bernabeu and Wembley stadiums and Old Trafford would make for a tasty hat-trick.
‘We want to keep that momentum going,’ said England defender John Stones. ‘The derby is always feisty but we know our qualities and game plan. We stick to that and are confident in what we do.
‘You still get nerves from such an occasion, I think anyone who says otherwise is lying. But definitely you have to play without fear. It’s about having a positive mindset.
John Stones also insisted City want to maintain the momentum from last week’s cup win
‘Maybe winning the league has gone but we play on and fight right to the end.’
Stones has seen his appearances limited this season and was at fault for Aston Villa’s equaliser in the Carabao Cup Final last weekend.
However, he helped Guardiola’s side keep a clean sheet in the FA Cup at Sheffield Wednesday in midweek and is looking for a strong finish to the season to seal his Euro 2020 place for England.
‘I enjoyed getting a run out again against Sheffield Wednesday,’ added Stones. ‘I will just try to get as many games in as I can and do as well for the team as I can and take it from there.’