Man City era will be judged on whether I win Champions League: Guardiola
Pep Guardiola conceded that performance in the Champions League will define his tenure at Manchester City, even if he doesn’t necessarily agree with that metric.
The Spaniard won the competition twice with Barcelona, but his last success came over 10 years go in 2011.
He didn’t reach the final during his 2013-2016 tenure at Bayern Munich, and since joining City in 2016, his best result in the competition is a final appearance in 2021, where they lost to Chelsea in the final.
Widely considered a coaching great, Guardiola’s lack of recent success in club football’s premier competition has often been a stick to beat him with.
The Citizens’ latest quest to win their maiden Champions League crown continues on Wednesday, when they take on German Bundesliga side RB Leipzig at the Etihad in a last-16, second-leg tie with the score finely poised at 1-1.
Asked on Monday if success in the Champions League would define his stint in Manchester, Guardiola, who has won nine major trophies in England, said: “Yes (for the public opinion). That doesn’t mean I agree, but absolutely, we’ll be judged for that competition.
“My first Champions League game here, they say are you here to win the Champions League?
“If I was manager for Real Madrid I understand, but as much as we go through won’t change it.”
His vice-captain Kevin de Bruyne, when asked if he was sick of being quizzed about nouveau riche City’s failure to get over their hump in the competition, was philosophical.
He said: “If you care about the noise, we’ve not won it but we’ve done really well. People base everything on only winning. There’s a lot of circumstances, the Madrid game (in 2022), Tottenham (in 2019), we deserved to go through.
“Moments in games, these things happen. I want to win it, but I know as long as we don’t, I’ll get the same questions. If people judge you on that, we just try and win the games, be the best version we can be.”
But he pushed back on the notion that finally winning club football’s biggest prize would immortalise this City’s team as the club’s greatest.
Said the Belgian playmaker: “No. I don’t see it that way. If we just win the Champions League and nothing else, you can call (us) the best in Europe, but I don’t know. What are the criteria for being the best team in the league?”
Guardiola has virtually a full squad to pick from, but Leipzig have no such luck. Attacker Christopher Nkunku, who scored a hat-trick against City in 2021 has picked up a fresh hamstring problem. Midfielder Xaver Schlager, goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi and defender Abdou Diallo are also out.
Leipzig have a win, a draw and a loss in their previous meetings with City. They met in the group stage last season, with the spoils shared with a win apiece.
City, however, have not lost any of their last 23 home Champions League matches and are on a six-game winning streak in all competitions at the Etihad. They last failed to progress past the round of 16 in 2016/17, when they went out to AS Monaco on the now-defunct away goals rule.
But Leipzig’s highly coveted young defender Josko Gvardiol believes an upset is possible.
He told Uefa’s website: “This season, after a bad start, we managed to get through the group stage and qualify for the knockouts, where we’re playing Manchester City. We managed to draw 1-1 at home and now we have a difficult second leg in Manchester, but that’s football and we know that anything is possible.”
Considered arguably the best young centre-back in the world, the 21-year-old Croat said his favoured position is “as a sweeper”, adding: “I like to have the ball at my feet. But I also like to be more involved in the game if the match and the opponent allow me to be.
“Of course, I like to look for other solutions, sending high balls forward and breaking through the opponent’s lines, and I certainly like to send long diagonals in behind the opponent’s defence.”
City are reportedly one of Gvardiol’s suitors, and considering Guardiola’s penchant for ball-playing defenders, a good performance in Manchester could seal a summer transfer.
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