Pep Guardiola says lack of history makes Manchester City underdogs in Uefa Champions League tie against Monaco

French Ligue 1 team have played at bigger stage more than Premier League side, Spanish manager concedes ahead of last-16, first-leg match on Tuesday.
Pep Guardiola, left, says it will be a tough challenge to beat Monaco in their Uefa Champions League game. Stu Forster / Getty Images
Pep Guardiola, left, says it will be a tough challenge to beat Monaco in their Uefa Champions League game. Stu Forster / Getty Images

MANCHESTER // History often forms a theme for Manchester City on the European stage.

Usually it is a sign of their ambitions, a determination to make it. As Pep Guardiola and Kevin de Bruyne looked forward to Monaco’s visit to the Etihad Stadium, they reflected on City’s place in it and the burden of expectation others’ past confers on them.

City were Uefa Champions League semi-finalists in May, but their immediate aim is to book just a second quarter-final appearance.

“Last year was a great step for the team,” De Bruyne said, aware that progress on a continental stage plays a larger role in appraisals of City. “It is very important for people who have to evaluate us and criticise us to see we are going in right direction.”

There was a similar sense from his manager, an awareness that an exit would bring suggestions of regression.

“All of Europe will watch us, analyse us and kill us if we don’t win,” said Guardiola, whose seven previous Champions League campaigns have all included a semi-final appearance.

His own track record is better than the club’s. “The recent history is quite good but in the long history, Manchester City was not here for a long time,” he said.

De Bruyne concurred, highlighting assessments he feels are unfair. England’s two most decorated clubs have won eight European Cups between them.

“People compare us to Manchester United and Liverpool, they have the history,” the midfielder said. “You cannot compare us because we did not have the history in the Champions League.

“It is not until we reach the final or the semi-finals that people will say we are on the same stage as the big teams.”

It led Guardiola to cast City as underdogs on Tuesday.

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“We have a short history in the Champions League, it is the fourth time we play in the eighth final [last 16],” he said. “Monaco plays in the biggest stages more.”

When they were pitted together, City seemed favourites. Paris Saint-Germain’s 4-0 thrashing of Barcelona last week prompted many a reappraisal, but not from the City manager.

“I don’t need a result like PSG-Barcelona to realise how good French football is,” Guardiola said.

Leonardo Jardim’s side are above the Parisians in the Ligue 1 table. “That shows how good a job he has done,” Guardiola said.

Monaco have mustered 76 goals in 26 Ligue 1 games. They appeal to the enthusiast and the tactician in Guardiola alike.

“As a spectator it is so nice to see them,” he said. “It is the most successful team in Europe in terms of scoring goals.

“The full-backs play like wingers, the wingers play like attacking midfielders.”

He is particularly wary of their counter-attacking menace. The adventurer in him admires their willingness to commit plenty of players forward.

Radamel Falcao, a failure in Manchester during a loan spell that produced just four goals for United, has scored 22 times already, prompting Guardiola to recall the “amazing” form the Colombian produced for Atletico Madrid when he was Barcelona manager.

If the numbers can provide an accurate indication of a striker’s contribution, they can prove more deceptive for other players.

De Bruyne scored 16 goals for City last season. He only has five so far.

“I know it is very important for other people but I never look at my stats,” the Belgian said. “Because I play lower and not everyone sees that, I am comparing that.

“For me, I am playing better than last year but maybe statistically a bit worse.”

He answered questions fluently in French. Guardiola tried out one word of his. “Encore,” he said.

City hope they will be back for more in the last eight.

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Published: February 20, 2017 04:00 AM


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