Pep Guardiola does not believe scars of previous Champions League failures will be an issue for his Manchester City team after they sealed a return to the quarter-finals.
Superb first-half goals from Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne gave the Premier League leaders a 2-0 win over Borussia Monchengladbach in Budapest, closing out a comprehensive 4-0 aggregate win.
It means City are back at the stage of the competition where they bowed out in each of the past three seasons, but Guardiola does not feel those defeats to Liverpool, Tottenham and Lyon will play on his players’ minds.
“In the previous seasons I didn’t see a team that didn’t want to make a step forward. Every time we want to go through,” he told BT Sport.
“The eight best teams in Europe, every time the quality is higher and it is more difficult.
“Hopefully the team can maintain this mood and we can compete, and especially do good games.
“When you go through, I always believe it is because you deserve it. You have to play good games.
“What happened in the past is in the past. In the quarter-finals, one bad game, bad moments, bad minutes can punish you.”
24 – Manchester City have won 24 of their last 25 matches in all competitions (L1). Since a 1-1 draw with West Brom on December 15th, City’s 24 wins are at least seven more than any other side has managed in all competitions in the top-five European leagues. Force. pic.twitter.com/HToxNv6pV8
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 16, 2021
An improved defence means City look a far more stable side than the one that came unstuck in those harum-scarum quarter-final affairs.
They became only the third team in Champions League history to keep seven consecutive clean sheets after AC Milan and Arsenal, with Porto’s Luis Diaz the last player to breach Guardiola’s men on this season’s first matchday.
“We conceded just one goal against Porto, that is quite impressive,” Guardiola said.
“We cannot deny that Ruben [Dias] and John [Stones] made an incredible step forward for the team. But Ayme [Aymeric Laporte] is back again and especially Kyle [Walker] is back at his best moment.
“We need this, but everyone runs a lot, not just the people from behind – strikers and the people in the middle.
“The most important thing is to understand that we defend with the ball.”
1 – Manchester City have conceded only once in eight UEFA Champions League matches this season, the joint-fewest for any side after eight games in a single season in the competition, along with Ajax in 1995-96 (also 1 in 8). Authority. pic.twitter.com/67rwdEYgvk
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 16, 2021
An influential element in that stability, both in and out of possession, has been Guardiola’s deployment of Joao Cancelo as a hybrid full-back/midfielder.
As in the first game against Gladbach, the Portugal international excelled roving in from left-back – a gambit Guardiola was inspired to come up with by the Bundesliga teams he faced while in charge of Bayern Munich.
“It comes from Germany. When you lose the ball they kill you on the counter-attack when the full-backs are wider,” he added.
“In Barcelona we had more control in the game with the incredible players that we had. In Germany it was completely different.
“The main reason is to have four, five, six players in the middle to make short passes and have control, this is the reason why.
“And a lot of players with good quality who don’t lose the ball. Three left footers with Phil [Foden], Riyad [Mahrez] and Bernardo [Silva], helped us a lot to give us the continuity of the pass and the extra pass.”
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