Pep Guardiola challenges his Manchester City players to prove him wrong: 'In Europe, teams don't give you 20 chances'

James Ducker
The Telegraph
Pep Guardiola barks instructions at his players - REUTERS
Pep Guardiola barks instructions at his players - REUTERS

Pep Guardiola has challenged his Manchester City players to prove him wrong and show him they are mentally strong enough to win the Champions League this season.

The City manager claimed after Saturday’s 2-0 win at Crystal Palace that the Premier League champions were not yet ready to claim Europe’s biggest prize.

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City will take a giant step towards qualification for the knockout stages if they beat Group C's whipping boys, Atalanta, at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday night before the return game in Italy a fortnight later.

Guardiola’s side are the firm favourites to top the group and their defensive woes appear to be easing with Kyle Walker, Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones all available again.

But the Catalan - who has been frustrated in his efforts to reclaim the European Cup since winning it for a second time with Barcelona in 2011 - wants his players to toughen up when it matters most.

City have twice exited the knockout stages on away goals under Guardiola, losing in the Round of 16 to Monaco in his first season in charge and to Tottenham in the quarter-finals last term, with a 5-1 aggregate quarter-final defeat to Liverpool sandwiched in between.

<span>Pep Guardiola looks dejected after Manchester City are knocked out by Tottenham</span> <span>Credit: getty images </span>
Pep Guardiola looks dejected after Manchester City are knocked out by Tottenham Credit: getty images

Guardiola recognises that City have conceded too much over those ties - 15 goals in six games - and believes they need to be better defensively and more clinical with the chances they do get. 

“Sometimes qualification depends on a save from Ederson,” he said. “Little margins are the difference. We are working on about it.

“I really believe these situations are about the mentality. We are good enough, we are strong enough. We believe that. When you play these games you go in believing we’re going to defend well. When you play well you don’t defend too much.

“We’ve got to think, to know when things are dangerous. When we talk about [improving in the] boxes it’s always the defence but it is in front too. That is where we have to improve.

“In Europe, teams don’t give you 20 chances. The players know this. We’ve spoken many times about it. After creating chances you have to be solid, you cannot give away the goals we’ve given this season.

“Be clinical with a good mentality to score goals. I have a lot of confidence in them. Sometimes it happens. Chelsea last season - six times we arrived and scored six goals. A few weeks ago against Watford, it was five times and five goals. It does happen.

“In other situations we have a lot of chances and don’t score. If you’re two on one, around the six-yard box, you have to score a goal. If not it becomes more difficult in this competition against these top teams.”

Guardiola tweaked City’s set-up in the first leg of their quarter-final against Spurs last season and watched his team lose 1-0 after Sergio Aguero missed an early penalty. But he has insisted he is reluctant in the main to change the way City approach games.

“I wanted a bit more control with more passes than usual [against Spurs] - in fact, we conceded really few chances,” he said.

“But I don’t like for one specific game to change something. But sometimes you have injuries, you have problems, you have a smell from the team and you have to do it.

“But it’s more for the fact that two times in the Champions League we went out on goal difference and in both games we conceded a lot of goals. 

“For example, we scored four here against Tottenham, five goals here against Monaco, but we conceded a lot. It’s not just about discipline because when we conceded three goals against Tottenham, because it was with Vinnie [Vincent Kompany] and Aymeric [Laporte] and last season they were incredible, they were outstanding.

“But in this competition, you play against incredible players and if you give some team in one moment, a metre, they will score. We have to know that.”

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