Pep Guardiola believes Manchester City will “suffer” against Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday night but can be ultimately “remembered for ever” as the first team in the club’s history to reach a Champions League final.
The City manager remains wary of the threat posed by the French champions and insisted it will be impossible for his side to control the semi-final second leg as they did the second half of last week’s 2-1 win in Paris. Providing City “control their emotions” and perform with the belief that has taken them to the brink of a third Premier League title in four seasons, however, Guardiola expects his team to break new ground and secure a first ever appearance on European football’s biggest stage.
“I don’t have to tell anyone – the players, backroom staff, doctors, cooks – how important it is. We’ve been looking for this moment for many, many years,” said the City manager, who last reached a Champions League final 10 years ago with Barcelona.
“In this game we are not going to play 90 minutes like we played in the second half in Paris. That’s not going to happen. I would love it, but it’s not going to happen. They have to understand that there is going to be a big battle, a tough game and moments to suffer, but we are going to react well and impose what we have to do.
“We just have to do what we have done this season, and that means in the bad moments stay calm, take the ball, regain our momentum and try to win the game. It is going to happen. What will make the difference is how big our good moments will be, and how quick we are going to play where we want to play. After that it belongs to the players. The desire to do something nice for all of us in our lives, to be remembered for ever, they have to make a step forward and say individually: ‘OK, we are going to help the team win the game.’ And we are going to do it.”
Guardiola claimed a semi-final second leg can be “tougher” than a final. “You know you play with the result of the first leg,” he said. “You play with the mind that you’re thinking: ‘final, final final’ and sometimes you can forget what you have to do, which is win the game you are playing.”
The City manager has lost his last four Champions League semi-finals with Bayern Munich and Barcelona. His team have endured plenty of European heartache of their own before this season, with three successive quarter-final exits including an away goals defeat by a Tottenham side managed by PSG head coach Mauricio Pochettino in 2019.
“I’d like to feel we’ve learned from our defeats but I don’t know how we’re going to react, it’s always a mystery,” Guardiola added. “The nice thing in our lives and our jobs is sport is unpredictable and it can surprise in a good way or a bad way. It was disappointing at the time but life always gives you another opportunity, another challenge.
“After the disappointment we had, especially in the quarter-finals against Spurs and Lyon, it’s nice to be here again. I’d love to say we’ve learned from that but maybe tomorrow we play a bad game. At the same time, what I think right now is we’ll play an incredible game and reach the final … but if the other team is better we will congratulate the opponent. We don’t want to miss this opportunity by not being ourselves and I’ve a feeling we are going to do well.”
PSG striker Kylian Mbappé is a doubt for the return at the Etihad Stadium having missed Saturday’s win over Lens with a thigh injury. “Today he started an individual training session and we will see if he can be with the team in the end,” Pochettino said. “There is still one day. We didn’t decide if he’s available or not yet.”
Guardiola, however, was not taken in by the uncertainty. “Absolutely he is going to play,” he said. “I’m looking forward to him playing. For the game itself I hope he can play.”
PSG’s strongest performances in the Champions League this season have come away from home with convincing victories at Manchester United, Barcelona and current holders Bayern in the quarter-final. But John Stones insists City are brimming with confidence having come from behind to win in Paris while subduing Mbappé and Neymar in the second half. The City defender said: “It was a massive confidence boost. To show the character and the resilience to come from behind is not easy and after the game we felt great pride and self-satisfaction. Those sort of moments are big, especially in the Champions League. They are something we can thrive off and bring into these next 90 minutes. It was a huge victory.
“I am very confident in the lads and in their ability, desire and belief. We know what we can do and I am confident we can make the next step in our history and make history for this club.”