Pep Guardiola played against Steven Gerrard in 2001. Credit: Getty.
Pep Guardiola claimed Steven Gerrard was an ‘authentic legend’ of the Premier League ahead of Manchester City’s Premier League clash against Aston Villa on Wednesday.
The pair haven’t yet met as managers, but they have come face to face as players when they both were involved in the two-legged UEFA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Barcelona in 2001.
It was Gerrard who got the better of Guardiola on that occasion, and the latter was asked in Tuesday’s pre-match press conference what he remembers of the game and what his views were of Gerrard as a player.
“Decent player - not bad,” the City boss responded with a chuckle. “It [the semi-final] was the first time I was at Anfield - 0-0 at home and 1-0 we lost in Anfield, a penalty.
“The career from Steven Gerrard speaks for itself, it was extraordinary. What a player, fantastic. An authentic legend in the Premier League and of course [for] Liverpool fans. His contribution to English football was massive.
“I’m happy he is doing a good job [at Villa],” Guardiola added. “He did an incredible job at Rangers, he broke I don’t know how many leagues of Celtic in a row. When you see these [recent Villa] games you know there are ideas behind it. It’s a really tough game and a nice challenge for tomorrow.”
Will Jack Grealish play?
Both managers were asked extensively about Jack Grealish in their respective press conferences, with Guardiola saying there is a chance the England international will be fit to play following a recent injury.
However, the Catalan said that the possibility of Grealish facing a hostile Villa Park reception would not influence his decision whether to start the winger against his former side.
“No. As much boos as they make at Jack, is as much as they love him,” Guardiola responded. “Normally that happens. It is normal. For team selection, it depends how they fit.”
Asked about Grealish’s form since his £100m summer move, the City boss said: “My opinion is that he plays much better than maybe people believe. When you see his actions, maybe at Villa everything starts with him and he could be free.
“Now he is in a new position and maybe was not so clinical in the final third, maybe because he respects his mates and it’s a new environment. That’s normal, it’s a process. He needs time. All the players [who] come here for the first season struggle.
“But what he sees or what he has to do, it is so easy for him with the quality he has. Just be free and be who you are. That’s all. It’s no more than that. I don’t say the players have to do what I say. They play, they have to take decisions.
“They have to be absolutely free. It’s not ‘Pep told me this’. This is not the way to play football. You have to play like when you when get the ball close to the box, others make a movement for you - that’s why you are Jack Grealish and not another player.”