Pep Guardiola and Manchester City have arrived in Lisbon with a sense of achievement and justification already under their belts.
They have proven their innocence at the Court of Arbitration for Sport against accusations of financial irregularities by Uefa. And with their name cleared, they then went on to clinically dispose of European supergiants and record European Cup winners Real Madrid in the round of 16 — their 2-1 victory replicating the same scoreline they registered back in February at the Bernabeu before the coronavirus pandemic struck.
But City and their coach want to achieve so much more, and this year’s mini tournament in Lisbon just might offer them that chance. They have dominated the English football scene for the best part of a decade but they have yet to taste success in the tournament they most crave, the Champions League.
Sure, they dumped out Real to reach the last eight, but that will mean nothing in Lisbon over the next week with Guardiola insisting they cannot be satisfied by beating the 13-time winners.
“We’re here to try and win the Champions League,” said Guardiola. A very different stance to the one he has struck in previous seasons when claiming City were not ready to be crowned champions of Europe despite dominating the Premier League.
“If we think that (beating Real) is enough we will show how small we are. If you want to win you have to beat the big clubs.”
It took City eight seasons in the Champions League to beat a former winner over two legs, but disposing of Madrid both home and away showed a maturity and ability to handle pressure situations that Guardiola’s men have lacked in previous campaigns.
A clash with Lyon, who finished seventh in the curtailed 2019/20 Ligue 1 season, offers further reason for City to be optimistic.
But in the past three seasons since Guardiola arrived in Manchester, City have contrived to crash out despite being heavily favoured against Monaco, Liverpool and Tottenham.
“I just spoke with the scouting department about Lyon and they told me to be alert,” said Guardiola.
The French side also showed what they are capable of in taking four points from a possible six against City in the group stages of in last season’s Champions League.
Guardiola has often bemoaned the lack of atmosphere at the Etihad for big European nights compared the cauldrons of the Camp Nou, Anfield or Santiago Bernabeu, but a behind-closed-doors environment for all remaining games negates that disadvantage.
Bar Sergio Aguero’s absence, City also have a clean bill of health and have been building towards the latter stages of the Champions League ever since football’s return from a three-month shutdown in June with Liverpool already out of sight in the Premier League.
Defensive problems could still prove their undoing as they did in losing nine times in the Premier League this season.
Converted midfielder Fernandinho is starting at centre-back at 35, while doubts remain over who Guardiola will trust at left-back when Benjamin Mendy returns from suspension for the quarter-finals.
However, much of the damage to City’s title defence was done prior to centre-back Aymeric Laporte’s return from injury.
Further forward, Kevin De Bruyne underlined his claim to be the world’s best midfielder against Madrid, while the Spanish champions struggled to contain Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus.
City undoubtedly have the talent, now they also believe it is their time in the Champions League.
Estadio da Luz
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