Pep Guardiola believes Champions League semi-final second leg is the toughest game, 'more than the final'

Manchester City take 2-1 advantage into clash against PSG on Tuesday

Pep Guardiola has prepared Manchester City for the task of trying to reach a first ever Champions League final by warning the second leg of the semi-final is always tougher than the showpiece event itself.

City earned a 2-1 lead against last season’s runners-up Paris Saint-Germain and go into Tuesday's rematch with Guardiola declaring himself “privileged” to be in the position and urging his players to repeat the performances that have got them this far but wary of his past experiences.

Guardiola is in his eighth Champions League semi-final as a manager but has only progressed to the final twice, in 2009 and 2011.

In 2010 and 2012, his Barcelona team went out at home to 10-man Inter Milan and 10-man Chelsea while his Bayern Munich suffered a hat-trick of semi-final disappointments, with the 2016 exit to Atletico Madrid hurting the most.

He said: “Every single time is different. The first two we didn’t deserve it, the third we were so close, we were unlucky not to go the final. But the second leg of semi-final is always the toughest game, more than the final.

“From my experience, the semi-final is always difficult. You play with the result of the first leg, thinking of the final, and can forget what you have to do. Always in my experience, the final is completely different.

“I don’t have to tell anyone what we’ve lived through for 11 months. I know the desire to reach the final. Stick together and suffer together, try to impose our game and try to win the game, be patient, attack and try to score goals.”

The semi-final is always difficult. You play with the result of the first leg, thinking of the final

Guardiola

Guardiola shrugged off suggestions that PSG forward Kylian Mbappe will be ruled out by declaring: “He is going to play. I am looking forward that he is going to play.”

City’s last Champions League tie against a Mauricio Pochettino team brought heartbreak as they won the 2019 second leg against Tottenham 4-3, only to exit on away goals after having an injury-time decider disallowed. “It’s the past,” Guardiola said. “Different clubs, different players, different moments.”

But defender John Stones said: “All those things that have happened have made us a stronger team. The disappointment of getting knocked out in harsh circumstances is hard to take. It’s something we have had to use as fuel to go and motivate us get our goal which is to win the Champions League."

Stones took heart from City’s comeback in Paris, when Kevin de Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez scored second-half goals after they trailed 1-0, as he vowed to grasp a rare chance.

“A huge victory, and the resilience and belief and character we showed in Paris is something you can’t put a finger on why it happened,” he added. “It comes from within the players and us as a collective.”

Stones is adamant City will not just sit on their lead, explaining: “We have never gone into a game thinking we need to defend and just sit there and think the job is done. It is a downward spiral if we go in like that.

“I never thought I would play in the Champions League. I used to love watching it on television at home, it was probably me staying up too late to watch it as a kid. It was a really special occasion. I loved the whole atmosphere, the whole background before the game, the whole show.

“To be in the situation now, to have the opportunity, you just don’t want to let it go. It is down to us, 90 minutes of us showing our character and us being the Man City that everyone knows and having that passion to make history for this club.”

Published: May 3, 2021 06:56 PM

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