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Pep Guardiola says he would never prevent a player who wants to leave Manchester City from joining a Premier League rival because that would be the mindset of a “small club”.

The Spaniard will come up against two of his former charges on Sunday when City play Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Raheem Sterling left the Etihad Stadium for west London in 2022 and was joined a year later by Cole Palmer for an initial £40m fee, as both searched for more time on the pitch. The latter is set to make his first appearance against the club he supported as a boy and joined aged eight, before progressing all the way to the first team.

Cole Palmer has nothing to prove to City after winning Pochettino’s trust Read more

Asked if he had ever stopped a player from joining a rival before, Guardiola said: “Never, ever. I give my opinion to the club and they decide if the transfer suits both sides and the player. Why? I think that means you are a small club. Big clubs, they don’t prefer [care], they make decisions for the benefit of all three parties; players and both clubs, and agents sometimes.

“So really it is not a problem. They want to go to Chelsea or United or Liverpool, whatever, what is the problem? They are happy to be there, the club is happy with the transfer. The other club is happy with the amount of money they spend, it is fine.”

Palmer started the season with City, scoring in the European Super Cup final against Sevilla. The Wythenshawe-born youngster, who made his City debut in September 2020, was part of the squad that won the treble last season but only started two Premier League matches, both coming after the title was mathematically secured, playing a grand total of 358 minutes.

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“Cole arrived and accepted some processes and then after one or two years said: ‘No, I don’t want to play here, I am not going to play.’ But I said: ‘Riyad [Mahrez] is leaving, you are going to get a chance here,’ and he said: ‘No, I am not going to play here, I want to leave,’ so I said: ‘OK, leave,’” Guardiola explained. “He got what he wanted. It is good for him. He is a young player, a huge talent otherwise he would not have been here. He is a nice lad and is doing really good.”

The Guardiola machine is starting to find its rhythm after losing three out of four matches between late September and early October. City have won their past three Premier League games and secured qualification for the knockout stages of the Champions League after defeating Young Boys in midweek.

Mauricio Pochettino’s Chelsea career has started slowly, winning four of their opening 11 Premier League games, but the Blues helped City finish the latest round of fixtures top of the table by defeating the previous leaders, Tottenham, 4-1, albeit with the help of two sendings-off. Chelsea won the Premier League in Guardiola’s first season in England and Pochettino is the man tasked with returning them to those heights. In the meantime, Guardiola has won five of the past six titles.

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“I never felt, since I was a football player or manager, invincible, unbeatable. Never, ever,” Guardiola said. “When I play in the Carabao Cup against League One teams or Conference teams I prepare the games like I always prepare the games. I am scared we are going to lose. I am worried. I feel that. Never, ever have I not felt it.”

City have the best defensive record in the league, conceding eight times in 11 matches, and have kept clean sheets in their past six meetings with Chelsea. “Defending well as a team is always high on our goals,” Guardiola said. “They [defenders] have enough credit and respect from us but we can’t control the media. It is more attractive to give it to strikers and attacking players. I have a feeling that we have defenders who enjoy defending. To defend well is a huge talent.”