Uefa Champions League: Real Madrid exit means nothing to Manchester City's title tilt, says Pep Guardiola

Manager says his side will not be favourites even if they beat Schalke as they are still 'teenagers of competition'

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, left, and star player Ilkay Gundogan are under no illusion of their team's chances in Europe. Lee Smith / Reuters
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, left, and star player Ilkay Gundogan are under no illusion of their team's chances in Europe. Lee Smith / Reuters

Ilkay Gundogan declared that Manchester City have to win the Uefa Champions League to be branded Europe’s top team.

But Pep Guardiola explained that, even after holders Real Madrid’s surprise exit to Ajax last week, it will be difficult for City, as “the teenagers of the competition", to lift the trophy.

Gundogan, who scored in the 2013 Champions League final for Borussia Dortmund, said: “If you want to name us the best of Europe then obviously we have to win it. It depends on which are our ambitions.”

The Germany international, who faces his hometown club on Tuesday night as City look to build on their 3-2 first-leg lead against Schalke, said he fancies their chances but added: “I had that feeling already the last two or three years and every time Real Madrid won it. They are out so there will definitely be a new winner.”

But Guardiola, a 2009 and 2011 Champions League winner with Barcelona, said: “We have to point as high as possible but there are other teams thinking the same. Put it into perspective: wow, it is difficult.

"If people think the competition will be easy because Real Madrid is out, they don’t understand the competition. Still incredible teams remain and we are teenagers in this competition.

“This competition is judged that when you are out in the last 16, it is a big failure. But when you go through from the group stages, it is an incredible success from my point of view. Imagine to go to the last eight teams in Europe: it is incredible. It is a competition that punishes you for all mistakes, especially with the quality of the opponents. It is a special game.”

That sense that mistakes can be costly was amplified by two surprise exits last week, which Guardiola took as a warning.

“We have the tendency, me included, when we see the draw to say who is going to win,” he added. “One week ago, we didn't expect Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid would happen.

"We still have work to do. Three-two is a dangerous scoreline. Many things can happen: one sending off, one red card, one goal in the first minutes.”

Schalke have lost their last three games and have slipped to 14th in the Bundesliga but Guardiola believes they could easily be ahead in the tie. Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling scored late goals in Germany after Nicolas Otamendi had been sent off.

“We are 3-2 up but could be maybe 3-1 or 4-1 down,” the City manager added. “We are quite lucky we played 23 or 24 minutes one man down.”

Besides the banned Otamendi, City will be without the injured Fernandinho and Kevin de Bruyne for the rematch so Gundogan is likely to continue as the holding midfielder. “It is not my main position but if I can help the team by playing it I will,” he said.

His current deal expires in 2020 and City are keen to keep Guardiola’s first signing. Gundogan sounded relaxed about his future.

“There is no decision yet otherwise I would have signed or rejected a contract,” he added. “We are still in talks but I don’t feel there is much pressure.

"I am 28 years old now so my next contract will maybe decide where I will be for the end of my career. Everyone feels different. Maybe someone has an inner feeling in his self to go for a new challenge or to change something.

"If you see on my [curriculum] vitae you can read that I am always open-minded for challenges but it is a personal situation.”

Published: March 11, 2019 06:09 PM


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