Gelsenkirchen: Pep Guardiola stated Manchester City are not yet ready to “fight for the Champions League” following his team’s last-gasp win at Schalke in the Champions League last-16 opening leg on Wednesday.
City were heading for defeat until five minutes from normal time. But then Leroy Sane, a former Schalke player, struck a 25-yard free-kick to equalise before Raheem Sterling grabbed a late winner.
While City are firm favourites to progress, Guardiola was alarmed at sloppy play that allowed the home side to take the lead via two penalties from Nabil Bentaleb before half-time. He also pointed to Nicolas Otamendi’s sending off towards the end.
“We’re not ready to fight for the Champions League,” he said. “We gave away the goals and the red card. They didn’t have a shot on target and scored twice. If they’d scored a third or fourth then maybe we’re out.
“We played incredibly well. I’m delighted but it’s not enough. We gifted the goals. Give me this result before and where do I sign? But every stage is more difficult.”
Bentaleb’s first penalty was awarded via VAR. Otamendi was adjudged to have handled Daniel Caligiuri’s shot, a decision that took around three minutes to take. The delay came because pitchside monitors for the referee, Carlos del Cerro Grande, did not work and so the verdict was finally taken by the studio-based officials.
While Schalke’s second penalty might also have been offside Guardiola had no complaints. “I trust VAR. I have arguments sometimes but not this time. They are both penalties,” he said. “VAR needs time, they will improve. The referee told me the machine was broken. I support the initiative. The referees need help and that is VAR’s intention.”
City’s fans can be lukewarm regarding the competition. Yet given the manner of the win — which started with Sergio Aguero’s earlier opener — Guardiola hopes they may now enjoy it more. “We need them in the competition. I remember at Bayern, these kind of games means a lot to the fans,” he said. “We cannot do it without the fans.”
Sane said the win was a bittersweet experience.
“I was a little bit sad for Schalke, because the atmosphere was amazing like it always is,” Sane, who joined City from the German side in 2016, said.
“You can see the will is a lot, we never give up, we always want to keep fighting. Schalke did really well, the way they defended made it difficult. At the end we did it, we scored three goals away — that was the most important thing.”