Pep Guardiola: Manchester City now respected as Champions League contenders

Holders continue their title defence with a 6-2 aggregate victory over Copenhagen to reach the quarter-finals

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Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said his side have earned the right to be considered perennial Champions League contenders after easing into the quarter-finals on Wednesday night.

A much-changed City side beat Copenhagen 3-1 in the second leg at the Etihad to claim a 6-2 aggregate victory. Goals from Manuel Akanji and Julian Alvarez killed the tie as a contest inside 10 minutes before Erling Haaland drilled in his 29th goal of the season.

Mohamed Elyounoussi briefly reduced the Danish champions' deficit to 2-1 on the night, but Copenhagen were outclassed over two legs as the European champions remained on course for another treble.

City conquered Europe for the first time in the club's history last season, but Guardiola acknowledged his side are now seen as favourites for the competition ahead of the likes of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.

The English champions have not lost a Champions League game at the Etihad since 2018 and became the first side in the competition's history to score three or more goals in nine consecutive home games.

"The important thing is being there [in the quarter-finals] seven years in a row, it's quite impressive," said Guardiola. "We are well-respected from our opponents. The numbers are there – our consistency.

"I remember when I arrived, we didn't believe, the club didn't believe we could do it because we didn't have the hierarchy in Europe like teams in Spain or Germany. It was a question of time, a process.

"The problem is the managers in modern football don't have time. They gave me time, our hierarchy, so credit to them to accept the process. Now we are a team that believe we can do it."

Guardiola showed he had one eye on Sunday's top-of-the-table Premier League clash at Liverpool as he made seven changes from the side that beat Manchester United at the weekend.

Kevin de Bruyne, Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva were among those to spend the entire match on the bench to rest ahead of the trip to Anfield.

But City were still a class apart and aided on their way into the last eight by some comical Copenhagen defending. Akanji made a sweet connection with Alvarez's outswinging corner but was given far too much room in the centre of the box to find the top corner.

Worse was to come for the visitors as former Liverpool goalkeeper Kamil Grabara let a simple shot from Alvarez slip through his grasp.

The 2,500-strong visiting support from Copenhagen refused to be downhearted as they kept a flat atmosphere at the Etihad going, and they had something to cheer on the half-hour mark.

Former Southampton and Celtic winger Elyounoussi drove forward with purpose and exchanged a slick one-two with Orri Oskarsson before firing into the far corner.

Haaland had been having a quiet night until he sprang into action in first-half stoppage time. The Norwegian was picked out by Rodri before chopping onto his favoured left foot and firing in at Grabara's near post.

That took Haaland's total to 41 Champions League goals, matching the tally of City's all-time leading goalscorer Sergio Aguero, but in just 37 appearances for three different clubs.

Guardiola's men are rounding ominously into form for those trying to dethrone them in England and in Europe.

City have won 18 and drawn two of their last 20 games in all competitions and remain the side to beat when the draw for the Champions League quarters and semi-finals takes place on March 15.

Real Madrid scrape through to quarter-finals

In Wednesday's other last-16 match, Real Madrid scraped through to the quarter-finals with a 1-1 second-leg draw against RB Leipzig, progressing 2-1 on aggregate.

The record 14-time champions were far below their best but did just enough over the two legs to edge out their Bundesliga opponents.

Vinicius Junior opened the scoring in the 65th minute after being set up well by Jude Bellingham.

Willi Orban quickly levelled for the visitors but they could not find a second goal to force extra-time at the Santiago Bernabeu.

"It was not our best day, but we have to be happy because the objective is complete, which was to get into the next round," Madrid captain Nacho told Movistar.

"When things don't go as you want, you have to battle, to fight, to play games like today's that make you grow and learn, and then think about the next one."

Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti warned his players before the game they needed to be at their best to progress and showed his cautious side by playing four midfielders behind Bellingham and Vinicius.

However, Ancelotti's gameplan stunted Madrid's own attacking game without completely stifling Leipzig's.

Ancelotti shifted back to a more typical set-up for the second half, introducing Rodrygo at half time for Camavinga.

It opened up the game at both ends and Vinicius began to have more influence after a quiet first half – albeit not always for good. The Brazilian was booked for barging Orban in the back and then shoving the Leipzig captain.

Vinicius' frustration quickly turned to joy though when Bellingham burst forward, showing superb timing to release the forward, who fired into the top corner at the end of a smart counter-attack.

Madrid's delight was short-lived though, with Orban levelling just three minutes later. The Hungarian defender's excellent diving header from David Raum's cross set up a gripping denouement.

Europe's most crowned side were taken to the wire on a nervy night by Marco Rose's side, only founded in 2009, but steeled themselves and held on to progress.

Updated: March 07, 2024, 5:54 AM