Manchester // Pep Guardiola has challenged Manchester City to confound their power brokers’ opinions and prove they can win both the Premier League and the Uefa Champions League in the same season.
Some senior figures at City believe that the demands of the domestic game are such that it is impossible to compete for the biggest prizes in English and European football.
Guardiola cited Manchester United’s record in 2008, 2009 and 2011, when they secured the Premier League crown and reached three Champions League finals, losing two to Guardiola’s Barcelona.
“United won the Premier League and arrived in the final of the Champions League against Barcelona twice and against Chelsea, so why not?” he asked. “Why can’t you win today and win in three days? I would like to know why. Why should we not try to win the games? Why not? It is physical, yes, but it is the same in Spain or Germany.”
Guardiola has reached the Champions League semi-finals in each of his seven seasons in top-flight management but admitted he will not be able to win over the critics who claim he underachieved in Germany.
“People believe I failed in my process in Bayern Munich because I didn’t win the Champions League,” he said. “I have to accept that.”
City have only reached one Champions League semi-final, against Real Madrid in May, and begin this season’s campaign against Borussia Monchengladbach on Tuesday night. They go into the game against a side who took four points off Guardiola’s Bayern last season and who have a 100 per cent Premier League record so far this season.
They will also be buoyed by Saturday’s derby win at Old Trafford. However, while City’s display on Saturday drew praise, Guardiola warned that their current level of performance is not high enough to secure them silverware.
“The way we have played until now, it will be not enough to win the Premier League, so you have to improve,” Guardiola said. “We have to improve to win the Premier League.”
But he suggested that improvement need not lie with his goalkeeper. Claudio Bravo endured a difficult debut at Old Trafford, when he was at fault for Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goal. Guardiola again defended the Chilean, who he wants to be a footballing goalkeeper, as he insisted that errors are an occupational hazard.
“I saw the goal and after that, he showed huge personality,” he said. “Claudio Bravo and Willy Caballero are going to make mistakes in future. They are not going to save all the goals and opponents are going to score goals. I am pretty sure of that.”
Raheem Sterling is an example of a player who has improved under Guardiola, to the extent that he was named the Premier League’s Player of the Month for August. The winger was scapegoated in some sections after England’s terrible Euro 2016 campaign, following on from a mixed first year at the Etihad Stadium, and admitted that he was stung by the reaction.
“I got a lot of criticism last year which I thought was a bit unfair,” he said. “There were a few games where I made my mark in the Champions League, where I had never scored [before]. I equalled my best-scoring season, with 11. It was a massive learning step last year.”
The 21-year-old has decided the best approach is to ignore social media, isolate himself and concentrate on playing.
“You took a stroll and you looked at the app on your phone,” he said. “Now I don’t pay any attention. I simply leave it alone.”
Now he is aiming to record 15 goals this season.
“It is a realistic target,” he said. “They are numbers I have to look at.”
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Published: September 12, 2016 04:00 AM