Champions League last 16 first leg: Real Madrid v Manchester City
Kick-off: 8pm, Wednesday. Venue: Estadio Bernabéu. On TV: Live on Virgin Media Sport and BT Sport.
Pep Guardiola believes that Manchester City are due a change in their Champions League luck as he prepares for the first leg of the last-16 tie at Real Madrid tonight.
The manager was not bemoaning the two-year ban from Europe that the club have received for financial irregularities; rather a perceived misfortune in terms of near misses and refereeing decisions in recent seasons.
The 49-year-old said that he could remember "incredible episodes in games" and he mentioned both legs of the quarter-final against Liverpool two seasons ago. Guardiola felt that Raheem Sterling should have had a penalty in the second half of the first leg at Anfield, which ended in a 3-0 Liverpool win, while he lost his composure in the return and was sent off after Leroy Sané had a goal disallowed for offside. That would have made it 3-2 on aggregate and City fell apart thereafter.
Guardiola’s team threw away a lead to exit on away goals to Monaco in the last 16 in 2016-17 - his first season at the club - and were also aggrieved to go out to Tottenham in last season’s quarter-final. Sergio Agüero missed a penalty in the first leg in London while Spurs’s winner in the return appeared to go in off Fernando Llorente’s hand. Then there was the last-gasp VAR drama when an apparent Sterling winner was ruled out for an offside against Agüero.
Guardiola made the point that City needed to play to their strengths, first and foremost, against Real, the 13-times champions, but he agreed that better luck might also be a factor.
“You have to be many things and you have to be lucky,” he said. “In the knockout stages, the decisions in certain points are important, although we cannot control that. Last season and the previous ones - when we play in Liverpool and in the second game [against them], there were decisions … but you have to overcome. Many things happen but it’s football. I would like it to be more fair and hopefully it can be fair for both sides. I don’t like to win with the wrong decisions.”
Guardiola, who said Sterling was fit after hamstring trouble, restated his belief that City would have their ban overturned by the court of arbitration for sport and be able to compete in next season’s Champions League. “I trust the people in my club, they have showed me the arguments and the proof, and we are optimistic,” he said.