Guardiola fears United scars may damage hopes of comeback
Pep Guardiola fears Manchester City could be haunted by their derby collapse if they race into an early lead against Liverpool in the Champions League tomorrow.
City trail Liverpool 3-0 from the their quarter-final first leg at Anfield last week and will need to produce an extraordinary comeback if they are to become only the third team in Champions League history to overturn at least a three-goal deficit.
Barcelona famously recovered from losing the first leg of their last-16 tie to Paris Saint-Germain 4-0 last season by beating the French club 6-1 in the return game and Deportivo La Coruna, trailing 4-1 to AC Milan in the first leg of their quarter-final in 2004, won the second game 4-0 to progress.
City were 2-0 in front after half an hour against Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, and seemingly on the verge of clinching the Premier League title, only to lose 3-2 after a 16-minute implosion in the second half as their bitter rivals derailed their anticipated title party.
Guardiola - who is expected to sign a new deal with City in the summer that will extend his contract by at least another year to June 2020 - is worried the painful manner of the collapse could play on his players' minds if they find themselves in front early on against Liverpool.
"Yeah, it can happen," the City manager said when asked if what occurred in the derby could be imprinted on the memory against Liverpool. "Yeah, it's difficult in itself, it's difficult for our mood not winning against United and, yeah, that can happen.
"But maybe we will improve for the future on that, to realise that sometimes it's not enough what you've done to win the games. I came here in the first half to try to do what we've done all season but maybe it's not enough to win at Champions League level or the Premier League.
"If that's so I will recognise that I'm not good enough, or the way we want to play is not able to do that, but I don't think so because of what we've done this season, in the first half (against United), even in moments in the second half. I have to be happy. I like to watch my team, the way we play this season and the way we played in the first half (against United) but, when you play against Liverpool or in Europe, when you have that momentum you have to close the door. And we didn't close it (against United)."
With City 2-0 up, Raheem Sterling missed two glorious chances to extend the lead and an unmarked Ilkay Gundogan also sent a header straight at United keeper David de Gea from close range.
The misses proved costly and Guardiola said they illustrated the difference between his City team and sides such as Barcelona and Real Madrid, who, between them, have won six of the past nine European Cups.
"Football at that level is about the boxes," he said. "When Real Madrid and Barcelona are always there, it's because they have players up front who, when they have half-chances, score two goals. So, in that level is the difference. In the first half, the game should be over."
City's crumble against United followed a 19-minute disintegration against Liverpool last Wednesday, during which they conceded three times, and Guardiola recognised that, in the Champions League especially in recent seasons, he had presided over too many similar collapses.
Last season, City threw away a 5-3 first-leg lead against Monaco in theirlast-16 tie by conceding twice in the first 29 minutes en route to losing 3-1 in the second leg and exiting on away goals. Guardiola's Bayern Munich were beaten 4-0 by Real in the second leg of their semi-final in Germany in 2014, with three of the goals coming in the space of 18 first-half minutes.
The following year, Barcelona scored three goals in 13 minutes to defeat Bayern 3-0 in the first leg of their semi-final and Guardiola then watched Barcelona score twice in the opening 29 minutes of the second leg to kill the tie.
"I thought many times about that," Guardiola said when asked how he could "close the door". "I've dropped a lot of Champions League games in the space of 10 or 15 minutes. I think about that many times, yeah.
"Against Barcelona (in 2015), 77 minutes, it's 0-0, 90 minutes - 3-0. It happened many times. Maybe it's my fault. I have to think about it. But I feel that when you dominate and create chances you are closer to winning games and I think this season showed that.
"The numbers we have done in terms of goals, but not just goals, the chances we concede, is few. But it's impossible when the opponents arrive four times and score three goals - there is no system that can sustain that."
Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne and Kyle Walker were on the substitutes' bench against United but all are expected to come into the starting XI against Liverpool. (© Daily Telegraph, London)