Pep Guardiola said he would not “put oil in the fire” as the controversy over his recent comments about Sadio Mane rumbled on.
Borrowing a phrase from his Liverpool counterpart Jurgen Klopp, the Manchester City manager tried to play down remarks that labelled Reds striker Mane a diver.
Guardiola made the comments in an interview following City’s victory over Southampton on Saturday in reference to Liverpool’s own win over Aston Villa on the same day.
Mane, who had won what proved crucial late penalties in recent games against Leicester and Tottenham, was booked for diving in the area in the closing minutes against Villa.
Klopp expressed surprise at Guardiola’s interview, which came a week ahead of Sunday’s top-of-the-table Premier League clash between the two clubs at Anfield.
The German said he was “not too sure if I want to put oil on the fire” in response, but then referenced tactical fouling, a tactic City have been accused of in the past.
Asked about this at a press conference in Italy ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League clash against Atalanta, Guardiola said: “No comment on that. I don’t put oil in the fire.”
Asked if he was surprised by Klopp’s riposte, Guardiola said: “No, no. No comment, honestly.”
Guardiola, however, did point out that his critique of Mane did come amid a host of compliments about the player and Liverpool, who lead City by six points heading into this weekend’s encounter.
He said: “My son and my daughter, all the time, when they win in the last minutes, ask me how lucky they are. But I say it’s not lucky.
“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 – not just my son and my daughter – that it is not lucky. If it happens once or twice in a life then yes, but 10 or 12 or 13 times?
“In the 94th minute like it was against Leicester, it was a penalty, it was ‘wow’.
“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.
“But my comments – 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.”
The build-up to the Liverpool game has overshadowed the Atalanta fixture, which is to be played at the San Siro in Milan because the Italian club’s own ground in Bergamo does not meet UEFA requirements.
After winning their opening three matches in Group C, including a 5-1 thrashing of Atalanta a fortnight ago, City can secure qualification for the knockout stages with victory.
Guardiola said: “I’m wanting to quality as soon as possible. I’m not thinking of rotating my squad. I go game by game.”