Pep Guardiola expects the second leg of Manchester City’s Champions League semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain to be a tougher game than if they reach the final.
City gained control of the tie when they came from behind to win 2-1 at Parc Des Princes last week. With two away goals, they seemingly placed one foot in what would be their first ever Champions League final. But they cannot afford to think they have already qualified.
Going into the game on the back of a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace which has put them on the verge of the Premier League title, confidence remains high at the Etihad Stadium. Now, just one hurdle separates them from a place in the final of Europe’s biggest competition.
Asked if this game was the biggest he will have been involved in with City, Guardiola said: “I don’t know.
“It’s the first time most of us are here together. I know what we’re playing for. In these games you don’t need much emotions – be calm and know what you have to do. I don’t have to tell anyone, the players, backroom, staff, cookers, everyone knows how important it is.
“We’ve been looking for this moment for many years. We spoke a lot yesterday and today who we are, what we have to do.
“We don’t speak about PSG because we play against them a week ago. We just speak about us, us and us and what we have to do.”
The result is far from a foregone conclusion, with PSG possessing some of the best players in the world. Their performance in the first half of the first leg showed the problems they can cause City.
Guardiola is well aware of that and expects the French champions to pose a threat – but hopes his side can counteract that.
He said of PSG’s threat to City: “The same dangers of the first leg. The same dangers of Chelsea, Madrid, Bayern, Barcelona.
“We are going to try and make them dangers. Just focus on what we have to do, I didn’t speak one word about them. They can change their shape, their manager is so clever. I don’t know what they are going to do.
“The desire to reach the final is normal, never been before here, we focus on ourselves to read, stick together in the bad moments, suffer together.
“We try to impose our game as much as possible. We defend well, be patient, and try to score goals.”
While Guardiola is focusing on his own side, he is aware of how tough the game will be. In fact, he claimed this stage of the competition is tougher than the final.
Asked what worries him, he said: “A few things. At the same time I’m incredible optimistic. I’m more calm than before.
“The players trained well today, yesterday. Everyone wants to help. I take a look, you know the quality of the opponent.
“The second leg semi-final always the toughest game, more than the final. We control our emotions to do exactly what we have to do. We try to convince the players that’s the best way to win this game.”
Elaborating on his comparison of the two rounds, he explained: “From my experience, the semis are always difficult. You play with the result of the first leg, you forget what you have to do which is win the game.
“Always has been like this, final is completely different. It’s not easier or more difficult but completely different to the second leg.”
Guardiola delighted with defensive options
Guardiola has almost a full complement of players to pick from, but confirmed that one of his defenders will be absent.
He said: “Eric Garcia is only one, he’s been sick with a fever and couldn’t travel to Palace and still isn’t ready. The rest are okay.”
In Garcia’s absence, Guardiola still has plenty of his preferred options to choose from at the back. Ruben Dias has made a significant impression this season, while John Stones has improved and Aymeric Laporte remains a strong option. They also have Nathan Ake, who hasn’t seen too much gametime.
The City boss retains faith in all of his options in that position.
Asked about the first-choice pairing of Dias and Stones, he said: “They are comfortable together. The level Aymer expresses in the last games he plays always he was perfect with John or Ruben.
“Last game, Nathan was exceptional. Eric you know my opinion, he never makes a bad performance. They are good, communicate good, help each other, talk a lot, they are comfortable.”
The defenders could be tasked with stopping Kylian Mbappe, although the PSG talent was seen limping at the airport on Monday.
Guardiola, though, hopes the 2018 World Cup winner plays.
He said: “Absolutely, I’m looking forward to it. He’s going to play.
“I’m looking forward to him playing. For the football, for the game itself, hopefully he can play.”
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