Manchester City are forced to settle for a draw in the first leg of their Champions League round-of-16 tie; Pep Guardiola defended the result, saying: “The Champions League is so demanding now, before it was quite easy, but today all the teams are really strong and well prepared”
Pep Guardiola has admitted winning the Champions League was once “quite easy” but is not anymore as he hit back at critics over Manchester City’s first-leg 1-1 draw with RB Leipzig.
Riyad Mahrez’s first-half goal had seemingly set Guardiola’s side on their way to the quarter-finals as they dominated the early proceedings in Germany, but Leipzig bounced back and found a deserved equaliser through the head of Josko Gvardiol. Neither side could find a winner on the night and the tie remains in the balance ahead of the second leg next month
Guardiola is hunting a first Champions League success still with Manchester City after some high-profile failures in previous seasons.
Their performance in Germany was criticised by former City full-back Danny Mills, who was reporting on the game for Sky Sports News.
He said: “City aren’t killing off games. In the last few years when I’ve watched City, it’s been 2-0, 3-0, 4-0, 5-0 – it’s been sensational the amount of goals they score. They aren’t blowing teams away like they used it – Pep needs to look at that.”
Guardiola, whose side are in the midst of playing five straight away games in 13 days, felt those level of expectations on his side in a competition of this depth are not in keeping with the reality.
He said: “This is the Champions League, big clubs are in the Europa League right now. It’s so demanding now, before it was quite easy, but today all the teams are really strong and well prepared with good managers.
“My expectations are not high. I didn’t come here thinking we’d win 0-4, not for one second I thought about that. The game we played needed control. It’s two legs over 180 minutes and I don’t want to lose 4-3 here. So, the game will be open in Manchester. It is what it is.”
He said: “Heads were down. I said ‘why are your heads down – have your heads up’ – it was really good the game we played.
“If people don’t like it, it doesn’t matter, you played the way you should play. You could play a little bit more to Erling (Haaland) but it’s going to happen because when you use these types of action you lose the ball and they run. You have to have the control.”
Guardiola was seen to be quite agitated talking to his players in a huddle on the pitch at full-time after the 1-1 draw.
According to Mills, Guardiola “didn’t look happy” but the City boss insisted he was pleased with the performance and explained why he did the unusual thing of calling his team together for a huddle.
Speaking to BT Sport, he added: “I was happy for the whole game, not just the first half. What do you expect? To play a friendly game here? How many games have you seen of RB Leipzig. People expect us to come here and win 0-5?
“That’s not the reality. It’s a competition where in the group stages many important teams are out and it’s difficult. We knew it. It was our fourth game in 10 days, all away games with travelling. We are a good team and do many, many good things – we are continuing to do this. If people expect us to win 0-4, I’m sorry, we are not able to do this.”
Rose: Gvardiol staying at RB Leipzig next season
RB Leipzig manager Marco Rose insisted goalscorer Gvardiol will remain at the Bundesliga club next season – in a blow to Premier League clubs tracking the Croatian defender.
Gvardiol told The Times before the match that he would like to join England’s top flight, but Rose has poured cold water over those comments.
“Josko Gvardiol will be an RB Leipzig player next season as well,” he told TV 2 Sport after the match.
“I am the coach and I am asking for that. He is happy here. He said he wants to play in the Premier League, but he didn’t say when.”
Speaking about the first-leg draw with City, Rose said: “It was two different halves. In the first half we weren’t in the Champions League mode and weren’t aggressive enough.
“We lost second balls and it was a bad first half. But the second half was really good with more pressure on the ball and creating chances.
“We had good ball possession and scored the equaliser. So we have achieved a draw in the end and we are there. We are present in the game and there is much to learn from the first half we played.”
Manchester City’s focus now switches to the Premier League as they travel to Bournemouth on Saturday, live on Sky Sports; kick-off 5.30pm. Guardiola’s side then go to Bristol City in the FA Cup on Tuesday; kick-off 8pm.