Pep tells players: Make Real’s history irrelevant
Pep Guardiola has said Manchester City cannot compete with Real Madrid‘s history in the Champions League but has challenged his players to prove that the Spanish giants’ 13 titles mean nothing when the two teams meet in the competition’s semifinal on Tuesday.
City are aiming to become champions of Europe for the first time and meet Real Madrid, the competition’s most successful team, for a place in the final in Paris in May.
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Guardiola insisted that City, who are playing in the last four for just the third time compared to Real Madrid’s 31, cannot compete with their track record but said that won’t matter when the first leg kicks off at the Etihad Stadium.
“They have been here many times,” Guardiola said at a news conference on Monday.
“The history is there and we cannot change it, but it’s 11 vs. 11. The players will decide. We are playing a team who have been here many times, that is why they have this — and we don’t.
“We can’t imagine what is going to happen but it is 11 vs. 11. Move players, how strong they are mentally, that will make the difference. Carlo [Ancelotti] and myself won’t win it. Players are the reason why.”
Guardiola has selection problems ahead of the first leg with doubts over who will play at fullback. Joao Cancelo is suspended while Kyle Walker and John Stones are both carrying injuries and will be assessed on Tuesday morning.
“They are doubts,” added Guardiola. “John has not trained since Brighton and Kyle has not trained for the last week. We will see how they feel and I’ll speak with them and take a decision.”
Guardiola’s opposite number Carlo Ancelotti is dealing with some injury concerns as well, with both David Alaba and Casemiro racing for fitness ahead of Tuesday’s match. Ancelotti said he would have Ferland Mendy available for selection, though.
“Mendy is fine. We have some doubts about Alaba and more doubts about Casemiro,” Ancelotti said on Monday. “Today’s training session will tell us, above all with Alaba and Casemiro. We have more confidence with Alaba than Casemiro. If Casemiro can’t play tomorrow, he’ll play the next game.”
Madrid’s next match after City is on Saturday against Espanyol (stream live on ESPN+ at 10:15 a.m. ET), where Los Blancos can clinch the LaLiga title with a win or draw at the Santiago Bernabeu. However, Ancelotti said being the runaway leaders and presumptive champions in Spain has no effect on the tie with Man City.
“We’re not thinking about what could happen on Saturday, the league is very close,” Ancelotti said. “We could win it at our stadium on Saturday and we’re very happy about that, to win an important competition a month early. The atmosphere is very good. This is the type of game these players with their experience want to play.
“For me my job is very straightforward in this period. I don’t have to say much to the players to prepare the game. We work on the tactics, but it’s very straightforward for me. It isn’t the moment to assess the season, but for me my work this year has been straightforward.
“The history of Real Madrid in this competition counts a lot for us I think, rather than for the opponents. That history that’s grown over these years helps the players to feel the weight of the shirt. It’s positive, not negative. It’s a very positive responsibility.”
Meanwhile, Raheem Sterling has refused to be drawn on his City future as he prepares to enter the final year of his contract at the Etihad.
The England winger has a deal until 2023 and has been linked with a move to Real Madrid.
“At the minute I’m just happy to be playing, happy to be contributing with the team,” Sterling said.
“I think that is the most important thing. At this period, I think it would be selfish of me to speak of any contract situation and I’m just happy to be playing football and see where we are at the end of the season.”
ESPN’s Real Madrid correspondent Alex Kirkland contributed to this story.