While many observers have branded Manchester City as one of a handful of favorites to win this season’s UEFA Champions League, Pep Guardiola has a different view ahead of Tuesday’s round-of-16 second leg versus Schalke: his side remains largely inexperienced in the latter rounds of the competition and are therefore still “teenagers” among Europe’s elites.
If the nearly disastrous first leg wasn’t enough of a reality check for Man City’s players — they found themselves down a goal and a man with just five minutes left to play in the first leg, before scoring twice late on to snatch an unlikely 3-2 victory — Guardiola is more than happy to remind them that their red-hot form in the Premier League (10 wins from their last 11 games as they’ve leapfrogged Liverpool for the title lead) means nothing once they re-enter European competition — quotes from the Guardian:
“Of course we can arrive in the last stages and make another step forward, I cannot deny that. But to compare with those [big] teams, one silverware doesn’t change it. We are teenagers in this competition. We want to win it, we push ourselves. The best way is to feel this kind of pressure.”
“We have to dream and point as high as possible. At the same time we have to accept there are other teams thinking the same with a lot of quality and a lot of talent. The English teams right now — United and Tottenham are there — and we cannot deny how strong they are. In 90 or 180 minutes, everything can happen and we want to compete against them.
“OK, we are favorites [against Schalke], but in one game anything can happen. United showed incredible character, with 10 players out injured. PSG are 20 points in front in their league, nobody expected it. Ajax went to Madrid [and won 4-1]. Everything is open.”
Similarly, Schalke’s woeful form over the last month (just one win from five games prior to the first leg – all competitions) meant very little as they raced out to their early lead, though it has continued in a very familiar vein with three straight defeats — by a combined margin of 11-2 — since the reigning PL champions’ visit.