Cool heads needed for European crown - Pep
On the day that referees' chief Mike Riley met Manchester City officials to discuss their concerns about dangerous tackles, it was fitting that Pep Guardiola should be counselling his own players about the need to keep their heads in the Champions League.
The runaway Premier League leaders may be the bookmakers' favourites to lift the European Cup but Guardiola issued a clear warning yesterday that one mistimed tackle or error of judgement could quickly ruin his side's hopes in the competition.
City hold a 4-0 first-leg advantage over Basel, so discipline should not be too much of an issue when they face the Swiss champions in the return leg of their round-of-16 tie at the Etihad Stadium tonight.
But in the later stages of the tournament, Guardiola believes there will be a lot less scope for mistakes and cited Fabian Delph's red card for a poor challenge on Max Power in the first half of City's shock 1-0 FA Cup fifth round defeat by League One Wigan Athletic last month as evidence of how quickly the tide can turn.
City also know from experience how damaging a numerical disadvantage can be in Champions League knockout ties. In three of four games in successive round-of-16 ties against Barcelona under Guardiola's predecessor, Manuel Pellegrini, City had a man sent off.
"If people say we are favourites, it is because maybe so far we have done really good," the City manager said. "But if what happened in Wigan happens in the Champions League - with the red card for Fabian Delph after 44 minutes - you don't win the Champions League.
"With the action from Oleksandr Zinchenko in the first half on Victor Moses (against Chelsea on Sunday), it was an orange but it could be yellow, could be red, and if it is red you are out of the Champions League.
"Sometimes in the Champions League it's not about how you play. It's so important to be focused and concentrated."
Riley met Txiki Begiristain, City's director of football, yesterday after the club had written to the general manager of Professional Game Match Officials Ltd, the referees' governing body, calling for a change to the rules to allow retrospective action against players who are booked for fouls that warrant dismissals.
City have been the victims of multiple crude challenges this season but Guardiola wants greater protection for players in general. "When I spoke about tackles, it's not just about Manchester City players, it is about football," he said. "I will speak with Txiki. Maybe he will tell me how the meeting went."(© Daily Telegraph, London)
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