Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola attempted to defuse a potential war of words with Liverpool as he arrived in Italy on Tuesday.
City face Serie A side Atalanta in the Champions League in Milan on Wednesday but that game has been overshadowed by the build-up to Sunday’s top-of-the-table Premier League clash at Anfield.
Guardiola fanned the flames last weekend with comments that labelled Liverpool striker Sadio Mane as a diver.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp responded by referencing tactical fouling, a ploy City have been accused of in the past.
Guardiola now admits he was wrong to suggest Mane, who recently won crucial late penalties against Leicester and Tottenham and was booked for diving against Aston Villa, regularly goes down too easily.
Speaking a press conference at the San Siro, Guardiola said: “What Liverpool have done in the last season and this season, many, many times, is because they have this incredible quality and incredible talent to fight until the end.
“That’s why I said to my players that it is not lucky. If it happens once or twice in a life then yes, but 10 or 12 or 13 times?”
“That was the intention for my comment. Far away from my intention was to say Sadio is this type of player because I admire him a lot.”
Guardiola also pointed out his critique of Mane came amid a host of other comments complimenting Liverpool.
He said: “That speech was long. It was a praise for Liverpool, not just one action. To say it’s lucky again? No. It happens many times in Anfield, and away, because they push and they push.
“That’s why it’s nice to face them and try to compete with them. Hopefully I can clarify everything for Jurgen.”
After winning their first three Group C games, victory for City over Atalanta will secure their place in the last 16.
Guardiola said: “I’m wanting to quality as soon as possible. I’m not thinking of rotating my squad, I go game by game.”
City play in Italy three days after their former striker Mario Balotelli, now at Brescia, was racially abused in a Serie A match at Verona. Balotelli threatened to walk off the pitch in response.
Guardiola said: “I hope Mario Balotelli isn’t punished. At times it takes very strong measures to change things and occasionally you need to stop and do something significant to make people realise what is going on.
“We need to combat this on a daily basis and I hope that gradually things can improve so the next generation can be better off.”
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