Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Champions League is ´the nicest one´ but Pep emphasises Premier League importance before PSG semi

SoccerNews in Ligue 1 27 Apr 2021

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Pep Guardiola refused to recognise the Champions League as a greater priority for his Manchester City side as they also close on the Premier League title.

City have never won Europe’s premier club competition and are playing in the semi-finals for just the second time.

They face Paris Saint-Germain in France on Wednesday and then host the Ligue 1 giants, last year’s beaten finalists, next Tuesday.

Between those two matches, City could win the Premier League. If they defeat Crystal Palace and defending champions Liverpool win at Manchester United, Guardiola’s men will reclaim that crown.

While acknowledging his club have been building towards a Champions League challenge over the past decade, Guardiola was keen to talk up City’s continued domestic success.

They claimed silverware in the EFL Cup final on Sunday, a competition they have won in four consecutive campaigns.

“It’s the second time we are there [in the Champions League semis]; of course we are not the elite in this competition, that’s for sure, but we want to be there,” said Guardiola, reaching this stage for a record-equalling eighth time.

“When the owners took over a decade ago they took steps to improve in England first of all, in the Premier League, in the cups, then this.

“The owners and managers and staff got this position right now. Every time we play this competition and we are lucky to live right now where we are.

“Right now I’m incredibly happy to travel with this club to Paris to be ourselves and play this semi-final with the target to win the game.

“And after, go to Crystal Palace to win one of the two games to win the Premier League, the most important competition. The Champions League is the nicest one but the most important is the Premier League.

“After, next Tuesday in Manchester, we play Paris to try to reach the final.”

City are looking for a 10th Champions League win of the season, a mark never previously reached by an English club in the competition’s current format.

Only Real Madrid in 2011-12 have previously had 10 victories in a campaign without lifting the title.

Guardiola will not get complacent and expects a tough test against PSG, who are bidding to become the ninth European Cup/Champions League team to reach back-to-back finals, but he is also determined City will enjoy the experience.

“We know we will suffer. I know the weapons they have up front,” he said. “Everyone who loves football knows the quality they have.

“But we’re in the Champions League semi-finals, what can you expect? PSG is not just two players, they are many situations. We have to know them and try to attack them.

“I will not play 90 minutes thinking how good this player is, just how to beat them. I learned from Johan Cruyff: you have to enjoy the game, enjoy the responsibility.

“Top players enjoy situations because they enjoy responsibility – that’s why the greatest players win this competition, because they play it like a friendly game.

“The mythical sentence [from Cruyff] before the final in 1992 in Wembley was to go out and enjoy.

“I will not tell the players that – I’m no Cruyff – but enjoy the travel, the coffee in their airport, the hotel, watching the other game tonight, the walk, the training.

“We’re privileged to be one of the best four teams in Europe this season. It’s what I want to see in my players. That’s why Cruyff had this idea.

“Once we arrive in the final, it’s not to be worried or concerned in case we lose. If we lose, we try again next season.

“Once you arrive in these stages, you’re nervous because you think of the consequences, not the pleasure of trying to beat them.

“This is the mindset of the greatest players in all the sports: we did it already, we try to do it the next one.”

Winger Riyad Mahrez was speaking alongside Guardiola and described last season’s quarter-final defeat to Lyon as “the biggest disappointment in my career”.

But he and his City team-mates are not content simply making the last four.

Paris-born Mahrez said: “You have to show that you deserve to be here and deserve to be in the final. That’s what we have to try to do tomorrow.”

He added: “The Champions League is the thing we’re missing. I don’t think anyone in our team has won it before. In Europe, it’s the best thing you can play for and win.

“If we can try to first go in the final, then we will see. The most important thing is tomorrow. Tomorrow we have to make a good game and try to go through.”

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