Pep Guardiola believes it is “impossible” for Manchester City to sign Southampton centre-back Virgil van Dijk in January.
City are among a host of clubs who have been linked to Netherlands international Van Dijk, with their return of three clean sheets from 17 Premier League matches and the ongoing injury struggles of captain Vincent Kompany adding weight to the argument that Guardiola could look to bolster the heart of his defence next month.
But speaking ahead of the Boxing Day clash with basement boys Hull City, the former Barcelona boss insisted he will not be in close proximity to Van Dijk until his side travel to St Mary’s Stadium in April.
He said: “Next month, Van Dijk here? We are going to Southampton to play against them?
“He’s not going to come here next month – impossible. Because he is a Southampton player and we don’t want him now.”
John Stones was City’s showpiece defensive signing during the close-season but an impressive start to life at the Etihad Stadium has tailed off and the England international was left out of the back-to-back home wins over Watford and Arsenal.
Nevertheless, Guardiola remains satisfied with the 22-year-old’s contribution and believes he has the ability and temperament to adapt to the challenges of competing for honours on multiple fronts.
“He played a lot. It’s the first time in his career he played every three days. It never happened before,” Guardiola said.
“For every three days, to be focused, sometimes you need a little more experience. But he played a lot. If I didn’t have confidence with him he would not have played the games that he played.
“I understand that some people think a player doesn’t play because the coach doesn’t trust anymore – that is not the truth.
“It is simple, our job is uncomfortable. It is unfair in most of cases to many, many players because they deserve to play but I cannot find a solution.
“Of course he is young and has to improve but he is open and has a lot of personality.
“When you play in the big teams, character is the main thing because all the big clubs buy huge players. The difference is how they react in the bad moments. John is one of them, I don’t have doubts about that.”
One England star unquestionably thriving under Guardiola is Raheem Sterling, who last season experienced his own teething problems having swapped Merseyside for Manchester.
The 22-year-old’s sixth goal of the campaign sealed the points against Arsenal and his manager was impressed by an all-action display
“In the last game he came back to the level he started the season,” he added. “In the last month and a half he was a little bit down but we cannot forget again how young he is and he needs to live a lot of experience to become more stable.
“He is not the top scorer but he needs to feel how beautiful it is to score goals, how important it is for the team and him as well. He scored a beautiful goal last game and gave us a lot.
“In the first month-and-a-half of the season he was our key, key player in front and, of course, we need him.”