Pep Guardiola: ‘There are no champions in December’

Pep Guardiola has issued a note of caution to those who believe Barcelona struck a decisive blow in the race for the Primera Division title with their 3-1 victory against Real Madrid at the weekend. Following his eighth win in 12 Clasicos since taking over in 2008, the Catalans’ boss insisted that nothing is won in December.

Barca left the Bernabeu with three valuable points as goals from Alexis Sanchez, Xavi Hernandez and Cesc Fabregas saw them overhaul with relative ease Los Blancos’ early advantage from Karim Benzema’s first minute effort. The win saw the Blaugrana displace Madrid at the top of La Liga, but Jose Mourinho’s men could restore their supremacy if they win their game in hand at Sevilla next weekend.

Saturday’s result has brought parity to a title race many believed was already all but over, but just as the defeated Mourinho has refrained from any post-Clasico verbal fireworks, the victorious Guardiola also refused to get carried away. “I am delighted with the performance,” he said. “Madrid will recover. To win here [at the Bernabeu], you have to play a very good game and we have done that. But there is still much to do and Madrid will again be the leaders if they beat Sevilla. There are no champions in December.”

Barcelona now have a break from domestic action to take part in the Club World Cup in Japan, and Guardiola is encouraging his players to move on from the big night at the Bernabeu and focus on the new competition. “I have told the players not to miss this unique opportunity to win the Club World Cup,” he told a packed news conference at the team’s base in Yokohama on Monday.

Guardiola maintained that the desire to be crowned as the world’s champion club would be sufficient motivation to prepare his players for their semi-final opener against Qatari side Al Sadd on Thursday. “The players are aware that the competition will be very tough and that there may be many surprises,” said Guardiola who, as a former player with Al-Ahli, admitted to “happy memories” and excitement at facing a team from Qatar again.

Despite Guardiola’s focus on the task in hand in Japan, he was inevitably asked questions about Real Madrid. “They were the team of the 20th century and it is true we have enjoyed some success over them recently,” he said. “But there’s hardly any difference between the two teams. Real Madrid are a great team, we know that.” Barca captain Carles Puyol echoed his Coach’s sentiments: “To win against a team like Real Madrid has given us a big lift,” he said. “It’s helped keep the players motivated to come to Japan and win the Club World Cup.”

Meanwhile, Santos forward Neymar, whose name has been linked with a possible move to Catalunya, could feature against Barca at the weekend in the final of the competition if both sides win their respective semi-finals. Santos play Kashiwa Reysol of Japan on Wednesday.

“Barcelona are the best club in the world,” said the Brazilian international. “If I have the opportunity to play them, I will be very happy and will try to win the game.”

The 19-year-old has been likened to Lionel Messi, a comparison he is delighted with. “To be compared with Messi makes me very proud and is something that pleases me very much,” he said. “Neymar is a different class, pure and simple,” commented Puyol at the prospect of a showdown between Messi and the Brazilian. “He does things most players can’t. He is always trying to score. He’s very dangerous, just a brilliant player.”

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