Pep Guardiola is dreaming of the one shot that could make Manchester City champions of Europe after admitting he never thought at the start of the season that this would be the year when they reached their first final.
During his playing days, the City manager was part of the Barcelona team who ended the club’s long wait to win their maiden European Cup, with victory in 1992 following campaigns in 1959 and 1986, when they were runners-up.
And rather than emulate them, Guardiola hopes City will join the ranks of teams who prevailed at the first time of asking on the biggest stage.
“When we won in ‘92, Barcelona lost before two times, some were unlucky, some of them, so unlucky,” Guardiola said. “Sometimes clubs need more finals to win the first one, in other clubs, it’s just one shot to be the champion. Hopefully, that will be the same.”
City were knocked out in the quarter-finals in the last three seasons but Guardiola said in autumn that he had a “good feeling” about his fifth European campaign with the club.
But he admitted they have surpassed his expectations, adding: “I never approach this competition like this, since I started at Barcelona. We are quite similar teams what we were in the past and when we were out. The margins are little details.
“This year it fell down on our side and a few years ago it was the opposite. It's not changed much. We are quite satisfied to get into the final but we know if you don’t have a huge desire to win it, a huge desire to know exactly what you have to do, then it will not be possible to win the game and win the Champions League.”
Guardiola has told his players there are still positions in his team against Chelsea on Saturday up for grabs. “The starting 11 is still not done, not yet,” he said. City’s top scorer Ilkay Gundogan, who sat out Sunday’s 5-0 win over Everton with a minor knee problem, has pronounced himself fine and has not missed any training sessions.
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So Guardiola’s selection dilemmas are likely to revolve around whether to pick Oleksandr Zinchenko or Joao Cancelo at left-back and whether Rodri or Fernandinho should anchor the midfield.
But whereas Chelsea’s domestic season went down to the wire, City clinched the Premier League with three games to go. “It will be an advantage if we win, a disadvantage if we lose,” Guardiola mused. “I don’t know.”
Guardiola’s friendship with the German dates back to their time in the Bundesliga when they went out for dinner. “We talked football, football, football, football,” he recalled.
Guardiola had the better record in their meetings in their time in Germany and added: “Chelsea create problems for all the teams. It is difficult to stop them for the quality they have. The set-up of the team is wide in the sides, depth, and they are so close, the distances, the players in between, they are closer. They play really good in the pockets, incredibly good in behind.
“When they have the ball it’s difficult to control for the fact they are so close with the distances between players in the middle. The holding midfielders move perfectly between each other.
"At the same time, they make the pitch wide with the wing-backs and so deep. Congratulations on the two games they beat us, this is another competition, the final, and we will see what happens.”