Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has reiterated he is unfazed by the idea that there is excess pressure on his side to win the Champions League this season.
City lost 1-0 to Chelsea in last season’s final in Porto’s Estadio Dragao on May 29 2021, with Kai Havertz’s goal three minutes before the break enough to earn the Blues a second title in 10 seasons.
Guardiola twice triumphed in the competition during his time in charge of Barcelona, but could not take Bayern Munich further than the semi-finals during his three years in Germany and has so far been unable to deliver the jewel in the crown of European football in Manchester.
Last week, the Spaniard argued those who suggested that, without a European title, his time at the Etihad has been a failure, were ‘jealous’ of City’s success elsewhere.
Speaking ahead of his side’s round-of-16 first-leg clash with Sporting Lisbon, he said: “You can ask as many times as you want [about the pressure]. Does it bother me? No.
“We are here, we are in the Champions League. It is an honour, a pleasure to travel to Portugal to try to compete well and try to win the game. [What happens] on the grass will dictate our chances. At the end, it is [down to] the players on the pitch.
Manchester City team news
Manchester City are without Jack Grealish and Kyle Walker as they face Sporting Lisbon in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Tuesday.
Record signing Grealish is still troubled by the shin problem that forced him to miss Saturday’s win at Norwich, while right-back Walker is beginning a three-match European suspension for his sending off against Leipzig.
Forward Gabriel Jesus is still out with the knock sustained on international duty last month, while youngster Cole Palmer (foot) also remains on the sidelines.
Provisional squad: Ederson, Steffen, Carson, Cancelo, Stones, Dias, Laporte, Ake, Zinchenko, Mbete, Wilson-Esbrand, Gundogan, Rodri, Fernandinho, De Bruyne, Silva, Mahrez, Foden, McAtee, Sterling, Kayky.
“I have been in the business as a manager – we are exposed and get punished by the criticism when you don’t get results. No just me, all the managers. It is not absolutely a problem. Otherwise you have to decide to do another job.
“To do better than last season is not easy. We are excited and happy to be in this competition at this stage. I know how important the Champions League is – we cannot deny it – but we take every Premier League game seriously and we saw how we behaved against Norwich was the best proof that we want to do it every single game, not just in the Champions League.
“We are on an incredible run. In Leipzig [where City lost 2-1 in their final Group A fixture], I would say we were not prepared mentally; we had already qualified before that game and we were not ready, but the rest, we were there all the time.
“This is what I want. We performed for ourselves; we compete for ourselves. What we are looking for is to behave every game like we have to. We have done it in the last years and I think there will not be an exception tomorrow.”
In addition to their European exploits, the Premier League leaders are undefeated in the league since October 30 and reached the FA Cup earlier this month after a 4-1 win over Fulham, meaning achieving a treble this season remains a possibility.
Guardiola says the harmony within the squad has been the building block for what has been achieved to date.
“The harmony in this team this season is exceptional, for many reasons,” he added.
“[I have been here] six seasons. We have always had good harmony in the team. Always. Otherwise we cannot win what we win. I have never had problems with the team. Never, ever.
Sporting Lisbon factfile
The Portuguese team, who won their 19th Primeira Liga title last season, have reached this stage of the Champions League for the first time since 2009. Head coach Ruben Amorim has been in charge just under two years but has delivered the league title and two Taca da Ligas since his arrival, although his side are currently six points adrift of leaders Porto.
Former Wolves youngster Pedro Goncalves is a threat, while Paulinho has scored 12 goals so far this season, including three in the group stages. Sporting advanced as runners-up of Group C, finishing level on points with Borussia Dortmund but progressing due to their superior head-to-head goal difference.
Manchester City are heavy favourites to win the match but Sporting were successful in the only previous meeting, advancing on away goals in a Europa League round of 16 tie in 2012.
“In football, the most difficult thing is that every day is that they [the players] are enemies because they have to fight for one position in the team. They are enemies, in a nice sense. After, they have to be brothers at the weekend. That’s why I have big problems because everyone wants to play. They have respect for each other and the decisions must be made by the staff, the backroom staff. If they have the respect they have for each other, the rest is easy.
“Sometimes they are disappointed if they don’t play because this harmony always comes from not playing minutes. The rest is impossible to complain about; this club, the players, the physios, the sports science, everyone is there to help them, so they cannot complain. Winning or losing is random so you never know what is going to happen in the future.
“But the period where we are together, we are trying to beat our opponents with big smiles and good moods. The only way to improve is with a good mood; when you have a bad face it is impossible to improve. Your mind is in a bad place.
“We cannot control the results so we are training to predict what is going to happen, but nobody knows what is going to happen. Not even myself the manager, the players. We practice to try and do our best, but if we knew we practised it and it was going to happen, we will train seven hours a day and always win the games, but this is not a reality.
“In Barcelona it was fantastic, in Bayern Munich as well. Always we had it good, maybe because I am such an easy going man. It is so easy to work with me and that’s why they create a good environment.”
- Sporting CP and Manchester City’s only previous meetings in European competition also came at the Round of 16 stage, with the Portuguese side knocking the Citizens out in the UEFA Europa League in 2011-12 (3-3 on aggregate, progressed on away goals).
- Manchester City have won just one of their six matches in European competition that were hosted in Portugal (D2 L3), with this run including defeat to Sporting CP in March 2012, as well as last season’s UEFA Champions League final defeat to Chelsea.
- After keeping a clean sheet in seven successive UEFA Champions League matches between the group stages and the Last 16 last season, Manchester City have since kept just one clean sheet across their last 11 matches in the competition, failing to record a single shut-out during this campaign.
- Sporting CP manager Ruben Ámorim will be 37 years and 19 days old on the day of this game, which will make him the second-youngest Portuguese coach to take charge of a UEFA Champions League knockout stage tie after André Villas-Boas (34 years and 127 days) with Chelsea against Napoli in 2011-12; Villas-Boas was sacked before the second leg.
- Among Portuguese players, only Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo (6 goals) has been directly involved in more UEFA Champions League goals this season than Sporting’s Pote (5 – 4 goals, 1 assist) and Manchester City’s João Cancelo (5 – 2 goals, 3 assists).
Source : Sky Sports