Friday, March 1, 2024

Guardiola proud of Man City’s new status in European soccer as Copenhagen awaits in Champions League

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COPENHAGEN — Pep Guardiola believes the best legacy he will leave at Manchester City is convincing the club it can be the best in Europe.

City won the Champions League for the first time last season at the end of Guardiola’s seventh year in charge, completing a treble of major trophies along with the Premier League and FA Cup.

Before that, City had lost in the 2021 final to Chelsea, tripped up in the semifinals in 2022, and lost in the quarterfinals for three straight years from 2018.

The dominant force in English soccer for the past decade, City — fueled by the riches of its Abu Dhabi ownership — is now among the most feared teams in Europe.

“I had the feeling when I arrived eight years ago that this competition was too much for us,” Guardiola said on Monday, a day before City plays FC Copenhagen away in the first leg of the round of 16. “Our defeats, our bad moments, our steps to grow up, they have helped us to put us in the position we are in: two Champion League finals and one semifinal in the last three years.

“All the organization at the club now believes we can (win the Champions League) and this I believe is the best legacy that we give to the club, to the team. That Man City can compete.”

On paper, City is the heavy favorite against a Copenhagen team that hasn’t played a competitive match in more than two months during the Danish league’s mid-season winter break.

Manchester City’s head coach Pep Guardiola gestures during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and and Everton, at the Etihad stadium in Manchester, England, Saturday, February 10, 2024. Credit: AP/Rui Vieira

To regain some match sharpness, the Danish champions have been playing in the Atlantic Cup — a tournament in the Algarve in Portugal featuring clubs from leagues that aren’t currently active.

Games against fellow Scandinavian teams Elfsborg, Brondby and Molde cannot compare to facing the European champions and Guardiola isn’t sure what to expect at Parken Stadium on Tuesday — except for a traditionally hostile atmosphere.

“I would say they will be starving to compete, hungry, fresh in legs and fresh in mind,” he said. “At the same time, I don’t know about their rhythm but they have had a lot of time to prepare for the game. Hopefully, we can be in a good level to compete.”

Guardiola was critical of his players’ body language during the 2-0 win over Everton in the Premier League on Saturday, which saw Erling Haaland score twice in the second half after a frustrating first 45 minutes.

The Spanish coach doesn’t want to see a repeat of that in the Champions League, knowing City will not always have things their own way.

“I don’t expect 90 minutes will be comfortable — there are moments when we’ll suffer, be sad, depressed. It’s about how we react,” he said.

“We have to understand that in our opponents, every player has a mamma and pappa. They deserve to play good and have good moments. Not just us, because we are the champions and we are Man City. How you handle those moments is what defines a big, big team.”

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