Pep Guardiola has claimed this season’s Champions League will be more difficult than ever for Manchester City to win. Manchester City is in its 10th consecutive season in the competition and has never got further than a semi-final appearance in 2015-16 when Manuel Pellegrini was in charge.
Guardiola, who twice won the Champions League as Barcelona head coach, was appointed City manager with a remit to bring European silverware to the club.
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Under the Catalan, they have consistently reached the knockout phase but have never progressed beyond the quarter-final stage, and ahead of their Group C clash with Olympiacos on Tuesday, Guardiola acknowledged the quest to become European champions seems to become more of a challenge with each passing season.
“It’s tough, really tough. There are many examples to prove what I’m saying,” Guardiola told a media conference on Monday. “There are more games with managers better prepared, more games where they know what they have to do. Teams are better. “There is more money everywhere not just a few clubs, a lot of clubs have the possibility to spend and buy players, and there are important managers.
“It’s difficult. Last season, Atalanta, look at what happened, semi-finals of the Champions League, and the Italian league was incredible. Shakhtar Donetsk, look what happened and now in Real Madrid and a draw against Inter. It ridiculous, this didn’t exist before. It doesn’t matter where you go.
“It’s hard to qualify [for the knockout stage], every time we qualify I say to players ‘congratulations, enjoy that moment’ but it’s the first success of the season, to qualify for the next round.” Guardiola won his two previous Champions League matches against Olympiacos, emerging victorious 3-0 away and 4-0 at home as Bayern Munich manager in the 2015-16 season.
His City side is unbeaten in their last 13 games in the group stage of the competition, winning five of the six games at the Etihad Stadium. Even though City are currently top of Group C after a 3-1 home win over Porto and a 3-0 away victory over Marseille, Guardiola says his players must retain their focus.
He said: “It’s difficult every game. Even with the pandemic, the situation is more uncertain with all the clubs. You can go away and struggle, go away where you have to do a good game to beat them. “At home as well, it’s a tricky competition, it’s why I’m delighted so far, we cannot miss this chance to get nine points and be in a position, just one more step, 16 best teams in Europe, this is the target.
“Porto is a team has to win every weekend, Olympiacos the same, they have to win, you play with this mentality you have to win too, always it’s difficult.” Gabriel Jesus is closing in on a return ahead of the Champions League clash but Guardiola may have to do without Sergio Aguero against Liverpool.
Jesus has been out since suffering a knock in City’s first game of the season at Wolves in September but is back in training. Guardiola has not ruled out the prospect of the 23-year-old Brazil striker making his comeback against Olympiacos.
The City boss said: “It’s too early to know. We will see today, in the last session. He [Jesus] is better and did one session with the team, a regeneration. We are happy he is back, but happy with Ferran [Torres] playing there [in a more advanced role], too.” Aguero is on the mend but may not be fit in time for the blockbuster Premier League clash with reigning champions Liverpool on Sunday.
The Argentina international sustained a hamstring injury in City’s draw at West Ham last month, ruling the club’s all-time leading goalscorer out of victories over Marseille and Sheffield United. Guardiola acknowledges the visit of Jurgen Klopp’s side on Sunday may also come too soon for the 32-year-old striker.
“We don’t want to take a step back, he’s getting better,” he said. “It was so hard to believe when he felt something in the last game when he played against West Ham but he’s getting better.” He added: “I don’t know about Liverpool, after the international break, [he] will be ready.”