Pep pleads with City players to be ready for mental challenge
Pep Guardiola gave an unequivocal rallying cry on the eve of Manchester City’s Champions League quarter-final against Lyon.
“Tomorrow is the time to show, to be ourselves,” the City manager said. “What I want to see is my team, our team, being who they are and do everything that they do in their soul and in their minds and after that the football will dictate if we deserve it or not.”
Strength of mentality – he also spoke of “the head, the spirit” – was a strong theme and it was interesting that in the Champions League, of all competitions, he chose to elevate that above tactics and ability and other qualities that shape elite sport.
Guardiola knows from experience.
He also knew that he would be asked, given he has not won the Champions League since 2011 with Barcelona and City have never won it, of its importance now that there is only one previous winner left and therefore there is a far greater chance of a new name being added to the trophy.
Not just that, of course, but the accusation that Guardiola (right) has, in the intervening years, often been guilty of another mental factor – over-thinking his team selections and tactics and being undone.
That appeared to happen in three consecutive semi-finals defeats with Bayern Munich, and with City not even getting that far in their past three campaigns under him. It is an accusation he hotly disputes.
“Every year it is the same question,” Guardiola said. “The pressure is always there. We try and do our best, like all the other teams. It’s one game, try to avoid mistakes, because this competition punishes and that’s all.”
The fact that under this unique ‘final eight’ format the quarter-finals and semi-finals have been reduced to one-off matches in a tournament-style in one city appears to fascinate and maybe encourage Guardiola.
It felt, as he spoke, that it actually might suit him better with the admission that in previous years he had had “one eye” on the second leg of knockout ties – which might possibly explain his tinkering.
“There is no second chance. It is in/out. You go back to Manchester or stay in Lisbon. It’s what it is. It’s completely different and the approach is completely different,” Guardiola said.
It should be noted that, although this is a quarter-final and with a semi-final to come, Guardiola’s determination to treat it as a ‘final’ bodes well, given he has lost only one of the 14 finals in which he has managed a team – and that was the Copa del Rey against Real Madrid nine years ago.
Decamping to Portugal, and basing themselves in the coastline resort of Cascais outside Lisbon, appears to also have suited City and Guardiola, who even found time to praise the quality of Portuguese wine.
“The way they (the players) have behaved in the last two or three weeks – they are incredibly focused,” Guardiola said.
“We are incredibly well here in Portugal. We have eaten good and drunk a good wine in the night. We have worked a lot and are prepared.”
Guardiola confirmed that Sergio Aguero would miss the tie as he remains in Barcelona recovering from knee surgery. The 32-year-old may join up with the squad if they overcome Lyon and remain in Lisbon for the semi-final on Wednesday.