Pep Guardiola has urged his players to play the team rather than the club as Manchester City prepare to take on Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-finals, although two top stars could be missing.
City host the 13-time European champions in the first leg of their last-four tie at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday evening bidding to reach the final for only the second time following last year’s runners-up finish.
Guardiola is well aware City’s history hardly compares to that of the Spanish giants. However, he is confident the current Premier League leaders can be their match on the field.
“If we have to compete with history we don’t have any chance – they are better,” said Guardiola at his pre-match press conference.
“They’ve been in it many times, this competition. Before the last decade we were not, we were never here.
“The history is there, we cannot change it, but tomorrow we play 11 v 11, one ball is on the pitch and the players will decide if the decision-making is good or not.
“We are playing against players who have been in this position many, many times and beyond, reaching finals and winning.
“That’s why they have these kind of things and maybe we still don’t have it, but there are other issues and maybe we will have that and they don’t.
“In the end it’s the players’ quality, and how strong they are mentally, that will make the difference.”
England duo could miss massive clash
The main concerns for City heading into the game relate to their defence. Right-back Kyle Walker and centre-back John Stones remain doubtful after recent injuries and the other first-choice full-back, Joao Cancelo, is suspended.
Walker has missed the last three games with an ankle problem and Stones picked up a knock in last Wednesday’s Premier League win over Brighton.
Much now depends on how they fare in and react to training on Monday but there is a strong possibility someone may need to play in an unfamiliar position.
This echoes the quarter-final of two years ago against the same opponents, when Fernandinho played as a makeshift centre-back.
On that occasion the Brazilian stood up to the challenge as City pulled off a famous victory and Guardiola is confident anyone needing to step in this time would shine again.
He said: “We’ll see the players who are doubts, how they feel and tonight and tomorrow we’ll have time to decide the line-up.
“We’ll see how they feel but I’m pretty sure if players have to play in positions that they are not used to, they will do their best. I don’t have any doubts about that now.”
No maverick Jesus position change
One option Guardiola was quick to rule out, however, was deploying forward Gabriel Jesus at right-back.
The City boss alluded to such a possibility after the Brazilian scored four goals against Watford on Saturday, as a means of hailing his versatility, but he pointed out he was not actually being serious.
He said: “He’s not going to play right-back! Maybe Vinicius Junior versus Gabriel would be a good battle but he’s not going to play right-back. Maybe for a few minutes he could…”
Guardiola has been relaxed in demeanor this month despite facing a series of high-pressure games.
That again was the impression he tried to convey on Monday, even if the former Barcelona manager was abrupt in some answers to Spanish journalists, something that perhaps harkened back to a previous perceived antipathy towards Madrid-based media.
He said: “There are many, many good teams not here and one year we won’t be because it’s so demanding.
“That’s why I said to the players enjoy the moment, prepare for the game. You never know, it could be once in a lifetime, nobody knows. You must enjoy it and what I want is to be ourselves.”
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