Pep Guardiola believes his Manchester City players face the toughest task in European football as they face Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League semi-final.
Second-half goals from Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez saw City come back from behind to claim a 2-1 victory in Paris last week, putting them in first place to reach their first final in Europe’s top competition.
Guardiola has been a two-time winner since his tenure at Barcelona ten years ago, but he knows the semi-final can be particularly unforgiving.
Inter and Chelsea ended Barca’s title defenses at the penultimate obstacle in 2010 and 2012, while La Liga heavyweights Real Madrid, Barca and Atletico represented Bayern Munich in the semi-final of the three seasons of Guardiola in Bavaria.
“In my experience the semi-final is always difficult,” he said in a pre-match press conference, after confirming that City have all the senior players available, at the exception of substitute defender Eric Garcia, who suffers from a disease bug. .
“You play with the result of the first leg, you play with the spirit here [thinking] final, final, final. Sometimes you can forget what to do.
“Also in my experience, the second stage of the semi-final is the most difficult. The finish is completely different, that doesn’t mean it’s easier, it’s completely different.
Not that Guardiola thinks his previous years, sampling the ups and downs of the Champions League, will have much weight against Mauricio Pochettino’s side, nor against City’s own tries, having finally broken a three-part streak. consecutive outings in the quarter-finals.
“I don’t know if it works in this competition, right now, the experience,” he said.
“I would like to feel that we have learned from our losses but I don’t know how we’re going to react – it’s still a mystery.
“The disappointment we’ve had, especially in the last two seasons in the quarterfinals against Spurs and Lyon, to be here again is nice.
“I would love to say we learned from that, but maybe tomorrow we can play a bad game. At the same time, what I’m thinking right now is that we’re going to have an amazing game and reach the final.
“That’s my feeling, but if the others are better, we congratulate the opponent. We don’t want to miss this opportunity by not being ourselves. I have a feeling that we are going to do well.
Guardiola has often urged City to ‘be who we are’ in the face of difficult times this season – an approach that has left them on the brink of a third Premier League title in four attempts and won a fourth consecutive EFL Cup.
It was also a feature of his side’s talks as City worked around half-time deficits away from home against Borussia Dortmund and PSG to find themselves within easy reach of a first Champions League final .
Having been accused, sometimes unfairly, of overthinking the big European nights of his career, the desire to keep it simple seems to be Guardiola’s mantra this time around.
“Sometimes in these kinds of games you don’t need a lot of emotions. Start to be calmer and know exactly what to do, ”he says.
“I don’t need to tell anyone what we’ve been through for 11 months, not just the players – the backstage staff, physiotherapists, doctors, cooks. Everyone knows how important this is and how we have been looking for that moment for many, many years.
Guardiola added: “We talked a lot yesterday and today about who we are, what we need to do. There is no need to talk more about PSG because we played against them a week ago.
“I’m talking about us and us and us and what we have to do. We will try to do it.