Pep Guardiola has asked his Manchester City players to seize what could be a “once in a lifetime” chance to knock Real Madrid out of the Champions League.
City host the Spaniards in the first part of the semi-final at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday, as they aim to reach the final for the second year in a row. Real arrive as record winners 13 times, but Guardiola wants his team to enjoy the opportunity.
“We need to be so precise with them,” he said Monday. “I said to the players, ‘Enjoy it, prepare for the match. It could be once in a lifetime [experience], no one knows.’ There is no point in not enjoying what we want to be ourselves. ”
Guardiola believes reaching the final four again is another step in City’s quest to build an elite-level mentality and a relentless winning culture. “That’s why big clubs stay there for a long time. When you win, take a shower and go again. We learn that. I felt it in Barcelona as a young boy and we try to build the culture where we have to win each fight and fight to win every battle. “
He is aware that City should forget Real’s pedigree and just play on Carlo Ancelotti’s side. “The story is there – we can not change it, but it’s 11 against 11,” Guardiola said. “The players will decide this. We play against a team that has been here many times, that’s why they have this story and we do not. We can not imagine what’s going to happen, but it is 11 vs. 11, so it’s about how the players move, how strong they are mentally that will make the difference.Carlo and I will not win.The players will.
“If we have to compete with history, we have no chance, they are better, it speaks for itself. But we have the desire to play against them and take this incredible test, and we want to improve. We get to suffer together and then when we attack, do it as best we can. This would be the same against Bayern Munich or Barça. They have been in it many times. Before the last decade, we were never here. Reaching the final [last year] is a good lesson for us and for the future it will be good. ”
Guardiola was also asked if City reached this stage two seasons in a row meant they are now an elite club and so in a way it was a mission done for him. “Listen here, as far as I’m the manager, it’s never going to be achieved, I want another dream or a goal. We try to do our best, suffer together when we play poorly, hopefully as few minutes as possible. This is the motive for doing my job. ”
This is only City’s third semi-final, where their first has also been against Real in 2016, when a Gareth Bale goal took the Spanish team through 1-0 overall. City beat Real in the last 16 two seasons ago, but this time Guardiola is worried about who he can pick in defense on Tuesday. João Cancelo, a first-choice full-back, is suspended, while Kyle Walker, John Stones and Nathan Aké face late fitness tests.
“They are in doubt John has not trained since Brighton [last Wednesday]said Guardiola. “Kyle has not trained in the last 10 days. We will see how they feel and I will talk to them and make a decision on the day. ”
Raheem Sterling sat next to Guardiola at the press conference on Monday. His 23 Champions League goals rank him as England’s third highest scorer in the tournament, but there have been discussions about his future as his contract expires next year.
“Right now, I’m just happy to play, happy to be able to contribute with the team,” Sterling said. “I think that’s the most important thing. During this period, I think it would be selfish of me to talk about any contract situation – I’m happy to play football and see where we are at the end of the season. “
About his number in the competition, Sterling said: “It’s like everything, when you get your professional debut, then it’s on to the next thing. It’s to score your first goal and then after scoring your first goal, as a human being, you always try to do better and that’s the case with me every season.
“I’m trying to see how I can improve and get better at all the things that come with it. I was trying to see if I could get the English record [of 30] and that is what I will try to do. “