Pep Guardiola believes his Manchester City players face the toughest task in European football as they face Paris Saint-Germain in the semi-finals of the Champions League.
Second-half goals from Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez saw City rally from a 2-1 victory in Paris last week, putting them in a prime position to reach their first final in Europe’s top competition.
Guardiola is a two-time winner dating back to his tenure in Barcelona a decade ago, but he knows the semi-final stage can be particularly unforgiving.
Inter and Chelsea ended Barça’s title defenses in the penultimate hurdle in 2010 and 2012, while LaLiga heavyweights Real Madrid, Barça and Atlético represented Bayern Munich in the semi-finals of Guardiola’s three seasons in Bavaria
“From my experience, the semi-final is always tough,” he said at a pre-game press conference, after confirming that City have all veteran players available with the exception of backup defender Eric Garcia, who is sick with a virus. . .
“You play with the result of the first leg, you play with your mind here [thinking] end, end, end. Sometimes you can forget what you have to do.
“Always in my experience, the second leg of the semifinal is the most difficult. The final is completely different, it doesn’t mean it’s easier, it’s completely different. “
Not that Guardiola feels his previous years testing the Champions League ups and downs will have much to do with Mauricio Pochettino’s team, or City’s own trials, which ultimately snapped a streak of three straight quarter-final starts.
“I don’t know if it works in this competition, at this point, the experience,” he said.
“I would like to feel that we have learned from our losses, but I don’t know how we are going to react, it is always a mystery.
“The disappointment we had, especially in the last two seasons in the quarterfinals against Spurs and Lyon, being here again is nice.
“I would love to say that we have learned from that, but maybe tomorrow we can have a bad game. At the same time, what I think now is that we will have an incredible game and we will reach the final.
“This is my feeling, but if the others are better, we congratulate the rival. We don’t want to miss out on this opportunity by not being ourselves. I have a feeling we will get it right. “
Guardiola has frequently urged City to “be who we are” in the face of the crucial moments this season, an approach that has left them on the brink of a third Premier League title in four attempts and secured a fourth straight EFL Cup.
It was also a feature of his team’s conversations, as City reversed their away half-time deficits against Borussia Dortmund and PSG to come within close range of an inaugural Champions League final.
Having been accused, sometimes unfairly, of overthinking the major European nights of his career, the desire to keep things simple seems to be Guardiola’s mantra this time around.
“Sometimes in these kinds of games, you don’t need a lot of emotions. Begin to be calmer and know exactly what to do, “he said.
“I don’t have to tell anyone what we’ve been through for 11 months, not just the players: the back room staff, the physiotherapists, the doctors, the cooks. Everyone knows how important it is and how we have been looking for this moment for many, many years. “
Guardiola added: “Yesterday and today we talked a lot about who we are, what we have to do. There is no need to talk more about PSG because we played against them a week ago.
“I’m talking about us, about us and about us and what we have to do. Let’s try to do it. “