Pep Guardiola insists Manchester City are still fighting to be considered outsiders for the Champions League crown despite a stirring 3-1 victory over Barcelona in midweek.
Ilkay Gundogan scored a goal in each half, either side of a Kevin De Bruyne free-kick as City responded to Lionel Messi’s opening goal with a landmark triumph in a competition where they have often flattered to deceive
Ahead of Saturday’s Premier League match with Middlesbrough, Guardiola was asked how City measured up to the likes of Barca, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid and Juventus when it came to their prospects of lifting the biggest prize in European football.
“We are not in that level, the teams you mentioned,” he said. “Three or four years in a row we are in Europe [it is City’s sixth consecutive season in the Champions League] but before we were not for a long, long time.
“We made a good victory. It was so important for qualification.
“Still we are in the process to be considered a good outsider to fight for being on the level of the teams you have nominated.”
Guardiola remains fixated on the opening 39 minutes of the contest, when Lionel Messi scored a clinical breakaway goal before an error from Sergi Roberto allowed Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling to tee-up Gundogan against the run of play.
The City boss believes his players will have learned much in terms of their attacking and defensive capabilities from the challenge of back-to-back European games against Barca – they lost 4-0 at Camp Nou in Group C after Claudio Bravo was sent off for deliberate handball.
“When I look at Tuesday, the important thing is that we got the three points. We fought against a really demanding team,” he said.
“But I have to focus on what we did in the first half. It was tough for us until we levelled the match and we have to learn from that for the future.
“In terms of how maybe our build-up against Barcelona happened, it can [be disrupted] regularly.
“For example against Tottenham, Celtic, the second half at West Brom – many, many teams can do that. They did it and you have to improve and solve that.
“In terms of our high pressing, how they move the ball so quick, there are few teams in the world that can do that. Maybe Barcelona is the only one.
“They used [goalkeeper Marc Andre] Ter Stegen perfectly, went left-right, right-left and they are demanding a lot. When you arrive one second too late they can counter-attack, be one-against-one and we are in trouble.
“When you play against the best team, you improve a lot – how is your level and what do you have to do to get better?
“It’s fantastic to play against the big teams. They show you what you have to do.”