After winning their first trophy of the season on Sunday in the League Cup final, Manchester City go into the biggest game of their campaign against Paris Saint-Germain in the semi-finals of the Champions League.
With the Premier League title all but secured for the third time in four years, the focus for Pep Guardiola and his players will now be fixed on defeating the stars of PSG, beginning with tonight’s first leg in Paris.
The French champions are currently involved in a Ligue 1 title battle with Lille and Monaco, but the prize they have always craved is the Champions League.
Both City and PSG dominate domestically but have never won Europe’s biggest prize, ensuring this will be an intense and passionately contested Champions League tie.
Guardiola possesses one of the most talented squads in Europe but is fully aware of the threats posed by Mauricio Pochettino’s side.
“We know we are going to suffer in both games and they will have chances,” Guardiola said.
“I know the weapons they have. Every person who loves football knows the quality they have. We are not going to deny that, but we are in the semi-final of the Champions League—what do we expect? To play against average players? Of course not.
“PSG do not just have two players who make the difference. There are many other situations. We have to know them and we have to talk about them.”
In his pre-match press conference, Guardiola referenced the only time he won the European Cup as a player, in 1992 when Barcelona defeated Sampdoria at Wembley.
His coach on that day was one of his mentors, the late Johan Cruyff, and the Catalan who has won the European Cup twice as a manager, both with Barcelona, says he will take some of the legendary Dutchman’s mindset with him into this tie.
“I learned from Johan Cruyff to enjoy the game, enjoy the responsibility, enjoy the pressure,” said Guardiola.
“That’s why the greatest win these competitions because they play like a friendly game. That’s what I want to see in my team.
“The mythical sentence before we played the final at Wembley against Sampdoria in 1992—he said: ‘go out and enjoy’.
“I know I won’t say this because I am not Johan Cruyff, but enjoy the travel, the coffee at the airport, the night in the hotel, our dinner together, enjoying this press conference and tomorrow enjoy the walk, the training. It’s the process.
“We are privileged to be one of the best four teams this season and it must be enjoyed. This is what I want to see in my players.”
“We know how tough, how difficult it is to be here. To be here is not to be worried or sad or too concerned what is going to happen in the future if we lose.”
Pochettino’s side are highly motivated going into the game. With the Ligue 1 title not guaranteed this season, which isn’t usually the case for the Paris side who have won the league in seven of the past eight seasons, they are playing competitive games each weekend as well as midweek in Europe.
This need to stay at the top of their game could help them in these final stages, and their Brazilian superstar Neymar is fired up for the clash.
“We are going to do everything in our power to beat Manchester City,” he said in a pre-match press conference. “I will do everything, professionally speaking, to win this game.
“My main objective is the Champions League and not the Ballon d’Or. That is not my main priority.
“In the future I need to be able to remember that I have won the Champions League once, twice or maybe three times.
“This year PSG has really improved and we have worked a lot to keep improving. We really want to win the Champions League.”
PSG expect to have Kylian Mbappe in the lineup despite an injury scare in their last Ligue 1 game against Metz.
Pochettino name-checked Juan Bernat and backup goalkeeper Alexandre Letellier as the only unavailable players going into the game, and he has goalkeeper Keylor Navas back after the Costa Rican picked up a shoulder injury in the quarter-finals against Bayern.
Guardiola has no injury worries, and John Stones is able to return in Europe while serving a red card suspension domestically.
The City boss has plenty of decisions to make with an array of star players at his disposal.
PSG Vs. Man City Possible Lineups
Navas; Florenzi, Marquinhos, Kimpembe, Diallo; Gueye, Paredes; Di Maria, Verratti, Neymar; Mbappe
Ederson; Walker, Stones, Dias, Cancelo; Rodri, De Bruyne, Gundogan; Mahrez, Sterling, Foden.