Guardiola: Manchester City do not have a problem at home
City have lost last three European games at the Etihad
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola: “My main concern at the moment is to reach the knockout stage in good condition.” Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Champions League Group F: Manchester City v Shakhtar Donetsk
Kick off: 8pm. Venue: Etihad Stadium. On TV: Live on BT Sport 3.
Manchester City have denied there is an Etihad factor that works against them in the Champions League. Pep Guardiola’s team take on Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday on top of their group, two away wins having restored the damaged caused by the opening day defeat by Lyon, though that result back in September means City have lost their last three games in a row at home in Europe.
“The game against Lyon was the only bad performance that counted,” Guardiola said. “Before that we played well against Liverpool but could not make up the deficit from the first leg, the game was over before the last 20 minutes, and the defeat by Basel did not matter because we were already qualified. Each game is different, but after the defeat by Lyon every Champions League game is now a final, because we need to be in the knockout stage. We want to take our place with the best 16 teams in Europe.”
Evidently not everyone in Manchester feels quite the same way, because City’s crowds for Europe are generally lower than their domestic attendances, the habit of booing the Uefa anthem has not completely died away, and Guardiola has just taken part in a promotional club video aimed at encouraging supporters to feel more positive and proprietorial about European nights.
Kyle Walker believes a relatively subdued atmosphere does not necessarily harm the home side’s chances, though feels the stadium could be more intimidating for visitors. “As players we concentrate on the game rather than worrying about the fans, but obviously you do notice the atmosphere when you go to certain grounds,” the defender said. “It can be difficult to play away when you can feel the supporters right behind their own side, and we probably do lack that a little bit, but if we want to make history it’s down to the players, not the fans.”
One example of what Walker is talking about came at Anfield last season, when a typically partisan atmosphere contributed to City conceding three goals before half-time and effectively going out of the competition. “We were unlucky to come up against a Liverpool side that was on fire, but at the same time it was 10 minutes of madness that cost us the tie,” Walker said. “I feel we have learned from that now. We could have gone to Anfield and got a draw, then we would have had a better chance against Liverpool on our own turf.”
Guardiola is expected to rest several key players, possibly including John Stones and Sergio Agüero, with an eye on the Manchester derby at the weekend. Ilkay Gundogan and Nicolás Otamendi have both been declared fit, though not necessarily ready to step straight back into the side after being sidelined for several weeks by injury. “The next game is always the most important and my main concern at the moment is to reach the knockout stage in good condition,” Guardiola said. “If we can win the next two home matches in the Champions League we will be there. Of course Manchester United is a big game but we cannot start thinking about that until we have played Shakhtar. They may be bottom of the group but there are only good teams in the Champions League. My feeling from being in it for 10 seasons is that every season it gets tougher. The clubs are better, the players and managers are stronger and each season the desire gets higher, so getting through is complicated.”