Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Football European

Fine margins are holding City back in Europe, maintains Pep

Manchester City v Atalanta, Champions League - Group C, Etihad Stadium, Tonight, 8.00pm

Tough road: Pep Guardiola has yet to see his Manchester City side set Europe alight
Tough road: Pep Guardiola has yet to see his Manchester City side set Europe alight
Gian Piero Gasperini

By Andy Hampson

Pep Guardiola has called on his Manchester City players to show they have the mentality to win the Champions League.

The City boss said after the Premier League winners' victory at Crystal Palace on Saturday his side were not yet ready to win Europe's elite competition.

City are again rated among the favourites but in the past three years they have stumbled in the knockout stages and Guardiola feels there are mental hurdles that must be overcome.

Speaking ahead of tonight's Group C clash with Atalanta, Guardiola said: "I think the way we are really strong as a team has been built up from four seasons ago.

"But it's more for the fact that two times in the Champions League we went out on away goals, and in both games we conceded a lot of goals.

"In this competition you play against incredible players and, if you give some teams one moment, a metre, they will score. We have to know that.

"These little margins are sometimes the difference and we're working on that. I believe that kind of situation is about the mentality.

"We're good enough and we're strong enough. When you play well, you defend less. When you don't play well, you concede a lot."

City beat Palace 2-0, bouncing back from their loss to Wolves prior to the international break, but Guardiola felt they should have won more convincingly.

The City boss does not believe his team are clinical enough, even though they are the top scorers in the Premier League by some distance. He also, although perhaps inadvertently, chose a strange example to illustrate his point - last month's 8-0 win over Watford.

He said: "The Champions League will be won in the box, and so far we haven't been very strong in the box.

"We have made a number of mistakes that we shouldn't make at this level. For example, in the match against Watford we created a lot of opportunities but scored very little.

"But, of course, we have time. Tomorrow we have this chance to improve. We need six more points to qualify and tomorrow we can make an incredible step forward. We will see how we are in February in the latter stages if we are to go through."

City are looking for a third win from three games in their group after victories over Shakhtar Donetsk and Dinamo Zagreb.

Atalanta are still to register a point but, as they sit third in Serie A and finished in that position last season, Guardiola expects a difficult contest against Gian Piero Gasperini's team.

Guardiola, who used to play for Atalanta's arch-rivals Brescia, said: "Having seen what Atalanta did last year, and what they are doing this year, it is incredible. It is a great joy to watch his (Gasperini's) team play.

"They are brave, they respect their supporters and they love the way they play. The way they play is quite unusual, they take a few risks."

Meanwhile, Atalanta coach Gasperini paid tribute to Guardiola after arriving in England yesterday.

The 61-year-old feels he owes the former Barcelona boss a debt of gratitude for the kindness he showed him after being sacked by Inter Milan.

Gasperini lasted just five games in charge at the San Siro in 2011.

He has since rebuilt his career by guiding Atalanta to the Champions League for the first time, a feat Guardiola has described as "incredible".

Gasperini said: "His compliments are very welcome. I have got nothing to add to what has already been said about Pep Guardiola, not just as a coach but as a human being.

"He made a really nice gesture towards me and I can't forget that. This makes this occasion even more poignant.

"When I was sacked by Inter he called me and invited me to go to Barcelona to see them. It was a very nice gesture from a human point of view at a very difficult moment for me."

Atalanta finished third in Serie A last season and also reached the final of the Coppa Italia.

They are again third in the table after a bright start to the current campaign, although they are still to register a point in the Champions League after defeats to Dinamo Zagreb and Shakhtar Donetsk.

Former Middlesbrough midfielder Marten de Roon is hoping to return after injury.

He has happy memories of the Etihad after scoring a late equaliser for Boro in a Premier League clash in November 2016.

The 28-year-old said: "It is something you always remember. It came to me at the back post, I don't know why I was there. It was a very nice memory, especially the celebrations in front of the supporters. It is nice to come back here."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph