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Guardiola: I'll be playing golf instead of watching United

A campaign that began with genuine hopes of progress is instead ending with Everton manager Sam Allardyce lauding the mediocre, describing a 1-1 draw at Swansea on Saturday as a "great point."

This pitiful embrace of mediocrity is turning a storied club into an irrelevance. There is no scenario in which settling for a point against the team fourth from bottom in the league is acceptable. Yet here was Allardyce going one step further and actively protecting a point, introducing centre-back Ramiro Funes Mori in place of winger Yannick Bolasie.

Four more games until the end of the season is four too many for Allardyce. This failed experiment has Everton regressing further each match. Prolonging this farce has no obvious benefits and only risks widening the disconnect between supporters and their club.

Positives

While the general decision to substitute an attacking player for a central defender rightly attracted derision from the away support, it was at least positive to see Funes Mori make his first appearance since March 2017 after overcoming a succession of injuries. A player returning from injury as the only worthwhile positive is also a sign of how far Everton have fallen to this point.

Negatives

Everton fittingly needed an own goal to break the deadlock on a day when they rarely looked like scoring themselves, but it was all downhill thereafter. In one of the least successful defensive ploys of the season, Everton decided to leave the opposition's top scorer unmarked inside the penalty area to fire home the equaliser.

The terrible irony of Allardyce setting up so defensively is that Everton still cannot defend. Two of the three teams currently in the relegation zone have conceded fewer goals this season. Everton have not kept a clean sheet away from home since December, a run of seven successive matches. Allardyce is failing at the only thing he values: ultra-defensive football.

Manager rating out of 10

2 -- Two minutes after Everton hit the Swansea woodwork, Allardyce brought on an extra defender for an attacking player and switched to a five-man defence. A perfect snapshot of his miserable tenure.

Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Jordan Pickford, 7 -- Too many aimless clearances in the opening minutes before his performance settled down and normal service resumed. One of the few undoubted positives this season.

DF Seamus Coleman, 7 -- Poor clearance for the equaliser and missed a glorious chance when rattling the crossbar from a few yards out, but the Everton right-back pushed forward whenever possible and offered an attacking threat absent elsewhere.

DF Phil Jagielka, 7 -- The 35-year-old is 11 seasons into his Everton career and still the most reliable central defender at the club, which says a lot about his consistency but even more about the recruitment in the meantime.

DF Michael Keane, 5 -- A horrendous back-pass under zero pressure defined a nervy first-half display. Keane improved gradually after the interval but lost too many aerial contests against a diminutive home attack.

DF Leighton Baines, 5 -- Baines made an excellent block in the first half -- though he knew little about it -- and pushed forward well without much reward. On the back foot more in the second and not always convincing in the process.

MF Morgan Schneiderlin, 7 -- There are still occasions when his languid style can easily appear like a lack of effort, but the French midfielder continued recent improvement with an efficient midfield performance.

MF Idrissa Gueye, 5 -- On his return to the starting XI, the tireless midfielder at times played higher up the pitch and did not look at all comfortable in doing so, wasting a clear opportunity inside the penalty area.

MF Theo Walcott, 5 -- A continuation of recent weeks as fleeting promise illuminated long spells of nothingness. Everton focusing 45 percent of their attacks down the left flank did not help his cause.

MF Wayne Rooney, 5 -- Difficult to tell what his instructions were as Rooney flirted with several positions in the centre of the pitch but left no lasting impact in any of them.

MF Yannick Bolasie, 5 -- Allardyce asking for patience as Bolasie works his way back from injury is at odds with the decision to start him every match since his return. A spell as a substitute would seem beneficial as the winger continues to struggle.

FW Cenk Tosun, 6 -- Fluffed a late headed chance but kept Everton alive with two goal-line clearances in defence and showed his creative qualities when setting up chances for Coleman and Walcott.

Substitutes

MF Beni Baningime, 5 -- A willing worker but not the substitute Everton needed.

DF Ramiro Funes Mori, N/R -- First appearance of the season after injury.

MF Nikola Vlasic, N/R -- His first outing since January amounted to eight minutes.

Luke is ESPN FC's Everton blogger. Follow Luke on Twitter @lukeofarrell.

LONDON -- Mauricio Pochettino has said Tottenham suffered a backlash against a wounded Manchester City in Saturday's 3-1 defeat at Wembley Stadium.

City ended a run of three straight defeats and took a step closer to the Premier League title with a comfortable victory through goals from Gabriel Jesus, Ilkay Gundogan and Raheem Sterling.

"They had three defeats in a row. Of course they came from not a good result and that's dangerous for a team like them," the Spurs manager said afterwards. "They have unbelievable players; it was an aggressive performance from them."

Despite losing 5-1 on aggregate to Liverpool in the Champions League and suffering a 3-2 defeat to neighbours Manchester United, City led 2-0 inside 25 minutes at Wembley after Jesus sprinted onto Vincent Kompany's pass to score and Gundogan converted from the penalty spot after goalkeeper Hugo Lloris had felled Sterling.

"We started the game really really really bad," Pochettino added. "We missed playing 25 minutes. It was so easy for them. Then we started to compete at 2-0 down, we scored for 2-1, started really well the second half.

"But after 90 minutes, Manchester City were better. We congratulate them, they're very close to winning the Premier League. I am not concerned because after 14 games unbeaten, our last defeat was in December [at the Etihad Stadium], and now again against Manchester City."

Pochettino reiterated that Spurs, who halved the deficit through Christian Eriksen, should not be compared with City or second-placed Manchester United, who have spent vast sums of money over the past decade.

"We're working in a different way to them," he said. "We cannot compare to them. We need to work hard to reach Manchester City's level. We still need to work a lot. Of course, the way that we try, you never know.

"One day you can reach this level if you work hard, sometimes it's not easy. Listen to Pep [Guardiola, the Man City boss] or Mou [Manchester United's Jose Mourinho], they always say we need to invest in more quality but in our club we have a different philosophy. It's not the same. It's fantastic because we're working with different tools."

Lloris appeared to foul Sterling outside the box for City's second goal but Pochettino refused to blame referee Jon Moss for the decision.

"The most important thing is to accept that over the whole season it's sometimes for you and sometimes against you. I'm not going to complain. We lost because they were better. Of course it wasn't a penalty when we watch on TV," Pochettino said

"The referee made a mistake but we make a mistake and the players on the pitch. Sometimes it's against you but you accept it's the rules of the game."

Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.

A fabulous season from Manchester City was in danger of being devalued by the week's developments, but City reverted to type at Wembley and produced a performance of brilliance that lasted for 90 minutes instead of 45. Instead, the 28th win of the season equalled the club record and the victory produced an away treble at Arsenal, Chelsea and now Spurs, which none of the big guns have ever achieved.

Positives

Nerves of steel to attack Tottenham after what has happened in the last seven days. Stuck to their guns, kept their shape and produced yet again. For all the doubters, this was a big performance in so many ways. Brave, accomplished and proud.

Negatives

Impossible to ignore the amount of chances missed by Raheem Sterling. He was a menace to Tottenham all night, but his profligacy is another relevant storyline running through this fantastic City season.

Manager Rating out of 10

9 -- For a manager with his head full of negative headlines casting new doubt on his abilities, this was another grand moment. Pep Guardiola is the Manager of the Year in the Premier League by a country mile. Right down to the substitutions, everything was geared to keeping City on track and defeating an accomplished Tottenham side on their temporary home patch.

Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Ederson, 8 -- Burst from his area to clear early on and was clearly as up for it as the rest of the team. Showed the usual confidence in his defence with his constant passing out into an ultracongested midfield. Held his concentration right through to the end, making a diving save from Lucas Moura's drive in the 92nd minute, and in the 93rd minute punting downfield and almost putting Sterling through on the edge of the box.

DF Kyle Walker, 8 -- Frantic warm-up routine suggested he too was in the mood. Great battle with his ex-teammate Ben Davies down his side in both attacking and defensive terms.

DF Vincent Kompany, 9 -- Immense. Two good early interceptions, a crucial foot in on Harry Kane as he was about to shoot and numerous critical clearances. Hulking ball out straight to Gabriel Jesus for the opener. Completely apt that the whistle went with the ball hitting his forehead.

DF Aymeric Laporte, 8 -- Excellent and accomplished alongside captain Kompany. Unlucky when his block/tackle ricocheted off Christian Eriksen for the Spurs goal. Otherwise calm, tidy and in control.

DF Fabian Delph, 9 -- Switched happily with Laporte as City's defence soaked up late first-half pressure. Happy to surge forward to bolster Ilkay Gundogan's deep-lying role and go even further when time and space allowed. Dynamic, reliable and energetic.

MF Ilkay Gundogan, 8 -- Plugged the gaps as Tottenham flowed forward at 2-0. Consummate penalty fired as far from Hugo Lloris's reach as is mathematically possible, right into the side netting.

MF David Silva, 9 -- City's Player of the Season? There is a sliver between the Spaniard and Kevin De Bruyne. Beautiful threaded passes, to Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane in particular, are his usual output, but we should not consider them any more mundane as a result. In serene control among the flying bodies.

MF Raheem Sterling, 8 -- What can you say about his finishing? Flying through the spaces, great tight control, wonderful link-up play, but oh, the finishing. A missed chance after sidestepping the goalkeeper and dummying a defender summed up his entire season. Last week the misses mattered. This week, he scored 60 seconds later.

MF Kevin De Bruyne, 9 -- Back to his best after a period operating just below it. Passes back on track, eager closing of space, feisty tackling (yellow card for slicing through compatriot Jan Vertonghen) and the pass of the game to release Sterling through the middle on 74 minutes.

MF Leroy Sane, 8 -- Wonderful body shape as he opened up to smash a volley against the post early on. Good battle with Kieran Trippier down the left and often useful in pulling the vastly overworked Davinson Sanchez across to his touchline too.

FW Gabriel Jesus, 8 -- Lively and pivotal. Fast acceleration away from Sanchez and crisp left-footed finish for the opener. Alert to block Tottenham's build-up play (earning a booking for putting a foot in front of a quick free kick).

Substitutes

DF, Nicolas Otamendi 7 -- Came on for Sane for the last 30 minutes and helped shore up the defence with Laporte moving to the left and Delph acting as an extra man when needed.

MF, Bernardo Silva, N/R -- Came on for Gabriel Jesus on 75 minutes to stretch the left side of Tottenham's rearguard. Close control always helps in that respect.

MF, Yaya Toure, N/R -- Symbolic late appearance, as the old guard came on to replace the man who has filled the giant gap left by the Ivorian, De Bruyne. Appearance provoked outpouring of iconic old songs of praise from the stands.

Simon is one of ESPN FC's Manchester City bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @bifana_bifana.

LONDON -- Pep Guardiola said wining the Premier League will be one of his greatest achievements as Manchester City moved to within three points of the title.

After a tough week that saw their Champions League hopes ended, City put an end to a run of three successive defeats with a hard-fought 3-1 victory away to Tottenham Hotspur to move 16 points clear.

Guardiola has won league titles with previous clubs Barcelona and Bayern Munich but reckons the Premier League is one of the hardest to win.

"[It's] more difficult," he told a news conference. "The physicality, the weather conditions, the amount of games, the league is tough. That's why winning in this way, hopefully next Sunday it will remain in our hearts for the rest of our life.

"It's one of the best [achievements] by far but I will not say because I win titles in every league and the first title in each country is important. The first league with Barcelona was a dream come true and winning the Champions League against [Manchester] United here was also so, so nice, especially the way we played.

"But of course, the moment we win the Premier League it is going to be one of the nicest and most important."

City raced into a two-goal lead with first half goals from Gabriel Jesus and an Ilkay Gundogan penalty. But Christian Eriksen pulled a goal back before half-time to put the pressure on his side after their two Champions League defeats to Liverpool and seeing a two-goal lead slip in the Manchester derby defeat to United.

However, his players responded, snatching a third goal through Raheem Sterling, and Guardiola praised the character of his players.

"These guys are fantastic and awesome. What's happened in the last week is so unfair. We have a second chance against Swansea and we're going to try and be champions," he said. "Today, we've done it many, many times and that's why we're in the position we are.

"I am so so glad to be here and be part of the club. It was so good. The performance was so good."

City could potentially win the title on Sunday if second-placed United lose to West Brom or on Wednesday if Jose Mourinho's side are beaten by Bournemouth.

However, Guardiola won't be watching United's game, instead enjoying a round of golf with his son.

Asked if he will check the score, he said: "I have a golf game with my son -- bogey, double bogey, birdie. We will see. Football is unpredictable but normally United will beat West Brom. It doesn't matter.

"Before the derby it was in our hands. We have another chance but when one team in November, December has to hear every day they are already champions, it is so complicated to focus on what we have to do.

"After that, in a competition like the Champions League, with decisions and good opponents happen in both games we cannot complete closely against Liverpool but for the rest of the season, even the game against Wigan with 10 against 11 we were outstanding. It's incredible, the guys are incredible."

Jonathan is ESPN FC's Manchester City correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @jonnysmiffy.

LONDON -- It was in the 64th minute of Manchester City's 3-1 victory over Tottenham that Pep Guardiola showed how much he had been stung by his side's three-game losing streak.

Three times in six days, City found themselves on the wrong end of defeats against Liverpool (twice) and Manchester United, with two of those losses coming in games City had led at half-time.

At Wembley, they once again raced ahead, going 2-0 up before Christian Eriksen's strike shortly before half-time reduced the deficit; the recurring flaw of being unable to hold onto an advantage threatened to resurface against Mauricio Pochettino's team.

But after weathering a Spurs storm at the beginning of the second half, Guardiola went against the grain and made a defensive substitution by replacing winger Leroy Sane with centre-half Nicolas Otamendi.

It was a move more likely to have been made by Jose Mourinho, not Guardiola, but after those painful defeats against Liverpool and United -- and the manner by which they occurred -- the City manager chose to deploy the handbrake and it was the right move at the right time.

Within eight minutes of tightening up at the back, City broke forward and scored a third through Raheem Sterling, who had move more central. Guardiola's switch paid dividends, in that it secured victory and left his team within one win of the Premier League title.

A week ago, after losing 3-2 in the derby having relinquished a two-goal lead, there was doom-and-gloom around the Etihad Stadium and that misery was compounded three days later by City's Champions League quarterfinal exit against Liverpool.

But despite the prospect of Spurs -- unbeaten in the league since December -- inflicting a fourth straight defeat at, City bounced back with a performance of champions to deliver an emphatic reminder of their class and why they are, once again, 16 points clear at the top of the table.

The last week has been a learning process for Guardiola and his players, though, and his second-half substitution of Sane for Otamendi was a pointer to that. City have been unable to hold onto a lead in two of their biggest games of the season, so changes had to be made to halt that run.

There are other issues that will take longer to correct. Fatigue has unquestionably caught up with his players, whose blistering early-season form was sapping on energy, both physically and mentally. Guardiola may rotate his squad more often next season and not rely so heavily on the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, who has missed just five games all campaign.

However, nobody can suggest that the approach has not worked this season; City have romped to the brink of the title by blowing teams away in the first half of the campaign and so, if they are paying a price now, the title is a decent reward for that.

De Bruyne, a player-of-the-year candidate and arguably the driving force behind the title charge, admitted after this game that better defending and resilience were important following a difficult run.

"It's been a tough two weeks for us with five games," De Bruyne said. "[Tottenham] didn't have a game for a week and that's the advantage they had, but the mental toughness of this team is unbelievable. Today we scored the goals and defended better and we deserved to win it."

The win means that the title could be sealed on Sunday if United lose at home to West Bromwich Albion. Failing that, Mourinho's side would have to avoid defeat at Bournemouth on Wednesday to make City need to win at home to Swansea next Sunday to confirm the title.

"We're almost there, we knew we had to win two of six games," De Bruyne said. "That's not bad odds for us. We need to do our thing and hopefully we can finish it off next week."

For weeks it has been a case of when, rather than if, City win the title and it is almost certain to happen within the next week. The question in their remaining five games is whether they can break the 100-goal barrier -- they currently have 93 -- and claim 13 points to become the first club in Premier League history to reach 100 in a season.

So there are still targets to achieve, but the first one, the priority, is to wrap up the title.

"These guys are fantastic and awesome," Guardiola said. "What's happened in the last week is so unfair, but we have a second chance against Swansea and we're going to try and be champions. Today, we've done it many, many times and that's why we're in the position we are. I am so glad to be here and be part of the club. It was so good. The performance was so good."

Guardiola admitted he will not watch United's game on Sunday, though he does not expect them to slip up against the league's bottom-placed club.

"I have a golf game tomorrow," he said. "I have three days off and tomorrow I have golf. Golf, my son, friends, tomorrow is golf. I will be so happy and I will celebrate but I think United will win. The important thing is that we know we depend on ourselves. We have to win it at home. I am excited to be champions with our fans."

Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_

Rafael Benitez says he could happily stay at Newcastle for a decade -- as long as the project is right.

The 57-year-old Spaniard celebrated an eventful two years at the St James' Park helm in March and has 12 months remaining on his existing contract.

Fans are desperate for him to extend his stay after seeing him drag the club back into the Premier League and all but secure its continued presence there.

On Sunday, he will go head to head with Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, who is in the 22nd year of his reign, and Benitez admits a long-term mission is appealing.

Asked if his assertion in a television interview last year that the could stay at the club for 10 years was realistic or possible, he said: "Yes. What I say is you need a project.

"I like to work with young players, I like to improve young players, but I like to win. I want to be competitive and I want to win.

"You have to have a mix of young players and players with experience -- that means you have to spend some money because if not, you cannot compete now and win something."

Having won LaLiga with Valencia and the Champions League with Liverpool as well as taking charge at Real Madrid, Benitez knows all about the pressure of football management.

He is an admirer of Gunners counterpart Wenger, but knows that the criticism the Frenchman has received in recent seasons comes with the territory.

He said: "Because I have been at a top side for a while, you know you have to win. Everyone is expecting that you have to win the league or you have to win the cup or you have to win the Champions League.

"I know it's not easy, but at the same time, you know it's part of the job when you are at a top side."

Benitez enjoys a good relationship with Wenger having not always been able to say the same about the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho.

Asked why that might be, he said: "I liked the way his team was playing, his behaviour. He's someone who respects others and his approach has always been nice, positive.

"He is upset like everyone when you lose or when you think that something is wrong, but still for me, there was a big difference between him and maybe the others."

ESPN