Pep Guardiola urged his Manchester City players to show what they were made of against Liverpool – and is now more confident they can do the same against Real Madrid.
Under Guardiola, City have been a trophy-winning machine and have scooped up eight of the last 10 domestic trophies with the chance to make it nine from 11 in the FA Cup this season. However, they have struggled in the Champions League knockout rounds and their record against the top six teams in the league this year was a significant factor in them welcoming Liverpool to the Etihad as champions rather than still being in a race for glory.
Thursday’s match lived up to its billing as a clash between the two best teams in the country and two sides with distinct yet different styles, and it was the Blues that left happy after clinical finishing gave them a thumping 4-0 win. As Guardiola looks to increase the chances of success in the knockout competitions they still have to fight for this season, he felt it important to remind his players before the Liverpool game that they needed to show on the pitch what they are about.
“It is important for us when you beat these kind of opponents like Liverpool – the best team in England – to give us a message for ourselves to say we can do it, we can come back like we were,” said Guardiola.
“Even when we lost in Anfield we played in quite similar way to today in terms of personality. I admire the way we play with incredible courage knowing the quality of the opponent but not being scared and that’s why on Thursday I said to them we have to play. They are an incredible team, fantastic team, maybe the best team in the world right now but we have to show for ourselves to play what we think the best way to play is and we did it. That is why we are incredibly satisfied.”
City’s learning curve in the Champions League has continued under Guardiola. The team threw away a two-goal lead in Monaco in his first season in charge, were blown away at Anfield the following year before going out in heartbreaking circumstances against Tottenham.
It was a reserved, disciplined performance at the Bernabeu back in February that allowed them to take a lead and two away goals into their second leg. Guardiola will be focussed on getting his tactics spot on, but also wants his players to know the game will be about the character they showed against Liverpool.
“Every game is different but I cannot deny that beating Liverpool the way we did…football is feelings, moments,” he said. “Sometimes your mood is up or down, you can say we beat maybe the best team in the world right now and we can do it but every game will be different because Arsenal and Madrid play in a different way so we have to adjust to their qualities.
“What I want is to arrive in the best conditions possible in these games and after put mentality on the pitch. These games aren’t won with tactics and ideas, it is desire, passion, it is wanting to do it. When one team wants to do it, they can be beaten but it will not be easy for the opponents. That is how we have to try to arrive in that period.”