Pep Guardiola insists he trusts Manchester City to take the next step in the Champions League, adamant he would be “crazy” not to have that belief ahead of Wednesday’s quarter-final second leg.
City go to Borussia Dortmund with a 2-1 lead from last week’s home leg, meaning the Germans will be quietly confident of pulling off an upset given they managed an away goal.
While City have progressed from 13 of their 15 knockout ties in European competition when winning the first leg, in the Champions League the side that won the first leg 2-1 at home has been eliminated more often (15) than they have progressed (12).
The tie is in the balance and Guardiola knows too well to take anything for granted given City have been eliminated at this stage of the competition in each of the previous three seasons.
In 2019-20 they were dumped out at the hands of Lyon, a defeat that led to serious questions being asked of Guardiola and his management of such games, with some suggesting he overcomplicates life for himself.
Ahead of the second leg, the focus was more on the players rather than the Catalan’s preparations, and Guardiola was unequivocal when asked about trusting the team.
“After 27 victories in 29 games, if I don’t trust the players we have a big problem – I would be crazy,” he said in his pre-game news conference on Tuesday.
“Tomorrow we can win or lose. What we have done so far, we deserve to be where we are now. We know if we win we go through or lose we are out. In the Premier League we need three wins and a draw to be champions because we expect United to win seven in a row.
“If we go out, we will be disappointed but we have another chance. Life is like this. If you fight you get another opportunity. We are going to try.
“We lose against Lyon, we were better, but we were out. We are fighting for four competitions, especially the Premier League. We are already qualified for the Champions League, 11 years in a row, which has never happened before [for City]. That is fantastic.
“Now is the time for another step, the players want it. They were sad when we didn’t get to the semi-finals [in 2019-20] but nobody will give it to us, we have to do it.
“Nobody gives you the semi-finals, we have to do it in 90 minutes if we don’t do mistakes like against Lyon when we give them three goals. I’m so excited to travel to Germany, to try to do it.”
City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan struck a similar chord when he addressed the media prior to Guardiola, as the former Dortmund star suggested they gifted Lyon the 3-1 win in August.
“For me it’s important to take the next step, not just the experiences we had in the last few years, but also I have expectations of myself and team-mates and I know we have a great team and are capable of going into the semi-finals,” he said. “We should have been there earlier in the last few seasons but we were lacking something, individual mistakes which led to goals – and it’s tough.
“I feel we are much more stable at the moment this season, especially defensively, the more you proceed in this competition the more important it gets. It gives you a safe feeling when you know your defence and goalkeeper are working very well. Combined with the feeling we know we’re always able to score it’s a great potential.”
While he accepts there has been progress, Gundogan feels they have to show that improvement extends to their character, having appeared emotionally fragile at times over the past few years.
“I feel sometimes this is the case, we need to learn it’s normal to struggle,” he continued. “On that stage, playing against the best teams in Europe, it’s normal, everyone has quality.
“It’s normal to concede a goal, we’re not used to running behind a goal. Conceding or struggling, we’re used to dominating games and having possession, but it’s normal in Champions League and Premier League there are games it might not be that easy. Mistakes are normal.
“Learning to deal with it is the only thing that was missing when we speak of those Tottenham games [in 2018-19]. Just dealing with those situations is something we might need to learn still, these stages will show it now. It’s something we need to accept.”