Pep Guardiola has insisted that Manchester City have not been 'luckier' than other Premier League clubs with Covid-19, despite Thomas Tuchel’s belief that it has been a deciding factor in the title race.
Ahead of Chelsea's visit to the Etihad for Saturday's lunchtime kick-off, Tuchel said that "the biggest difference" between his side and City is that the defending champions have "dealt better with injuries and the Covid situation".
"Maybe it is lucky, maybe they do it better, but they have fewer injuries to key players, fewer days out and weeks where they miss them. They did not suffer from Covid like we did. This is a huge difference," Tuchel said.
City were the only top-flight club to avoid having a game postponed over the Christmas period due to a Covid outbreak, either within their own camp or that of their opponents, but were still affected by the virus.
Phil Foden, Rodri, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Kyle Walker were all confirmed to have been affected, while John Stones also missed much of the festive programme and Kevin De Bruyne tested positive in November.
A wider outbreak at City last week led to Guardiola himself self-isolating, with assistant Rodolfo Borrell taking charge of the 3-0 FA Cup third round win away to Swindon Town.
When Tuchel's comments were put to Guardiola during Friday's pre-match press conference, the City manager replied: "What do I say? I say what I said before - the situation is all around the world.
"We had injuries, we had Covid. Maybe we don’t say which players - out of respect [to those players], the club don’t do it - but we had a lot of players and backroom staff with Covid and at the beginning of the season we had a lot of tough injuries with our players. So what can I say?
"If they believe we were lucky, okay we were lucky. Thank you. What can I say? The pandemic is all around the world and everywhere there is the virus. We are exposed every single minute and day to getting it and we’re no exception.
"If they believe it’s the reason why then maybe. Maybe. Sometimes it’s the money that we have, sometimes it’s Covid. I don’t know. Maybe."
Guardiola will be back in the dugout at the Etihad on Saturday after ending his period of self-isolation but said that City have suffered fresh Covid cases among their squad since last week's break-out.
Nevertheless, Guardiola said that City did not consider applying for a postponement. Premier League rules allow for teams to apply for a fixture to be rearranged if they have fewer than 14 first team players including a goalkeeper available.
"We were 13 or 14 first team players in the last game in the FA Cup. We were 11 players against Aston Villa plus the keeper, the rest were academy. We played. We didn’t postpone it. The other clubs, I don’t know the situation.
"We try to play. If we have 11 or 12 players, it’s enough, we play. We have Cole Palmer, James McAtee and other players we try to play. We have enough players. If we have eight or nine players… I don’t know what counts. Is it just Covid or injuries?
"Injuries happen all the time so I don’t know the rules of the Premier League when it’s called off or cancelled for which reason. In many cases we had just 12 first team players available plus the keeper and we played."