Pep Guardiola believes his Manchester City players are facing the toughest task in European football as they take on Paris Saint-Germain in the semi-finals of the Champions League.
Second-half goals from Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez saw City come from behind to claim a 2-1 win in Paris last week, putting them in prime position to reach their first final in Europe’s top competition.
Guardiola is a two-time winner dating back to his Barcelona tenure a decade ago, but knows the semi-final stage can be particularly unforgiving.
Inter and Chelsea ended Barca’s title defences at the penultimate hurdle in 2010 and 2012, while LaLiga heavyweights Real Madrid, Barca and Atletico accounted for Bayern Munich in the semis across Guardiola’s three seasons in Bavaria.
“From my experience, the semi-final is always difficult,” he told a pre-match news conference, having confirmed City have all senior players available with the exception of back-up defender Eric Garcia, who is laid low with a sickness bug.
“You play with the result of the first leg, you play with the mind here [thinking] final, final, final. Sometimes you can forget what you have to do.
“Always in my experience the second leg of the semi-final is the difficult one. The final is completely different, it doesn’t mean it’s easier, it’s completely different.”
Not that Guardiola feels his previous years sampling the highs and lows of the Champions League will have much bearing against Mauricio Pochettino’s side, nor City’s own trials, having finally snapped a run of three consecutive quarter-final exits.
“I don’t know if it works in this competition, in this moment, experience,” he said.
“I’d like to feel we’ve learned from our defeats but I don’t know how we’re going to react – it’s always a mystery.
“The disappointment we had, especially in the last two seasons in the quarter-finals against Spurs and Lyon, being here again is nice.
“I’d love to say we’d learned from that but maybe tomorrow we can play a bad game. At the same time, what I think right now is we’ll do an incredible game and reach the final.
“This is my feeling, but if the other ones are better we congratulate the opponent. We don’t want to miss this opportunity by not being ourselves. I’ve a feeling we are going to do well.”
Guardiola has frequently urged City to “be who we are” in the face of crunch moments this season – an approach that has left them on the brink of a third Premier League title in four attempts and secured a fourth consecutive EFL Cup.
It was also a feature of his team talks as City turned around half-time deficits away from home against Borussia Dortmund and PSG to lie within touching distance of a maiden Champions League final.
Having been accused, sometimes unfairly, of over-thinking major European nights in his career, a yearning to keep things simple appears to be Guardiola’s mantra this time around.
“Sometimes, in these type of games, you don’t need much emotions. Start to be more calm and know exactly what you have to do,” he said.
“I don’t have to tell anyone what we’ve lived through for 11 months, not just players – the backroom staff, the physios, the doctors, the cooks. Everybody knows how important it is and how we have been looking, for many, many years, for this moment.”
Guardiola added: “We spoke a lot yesterday and today about who we are, what we have to do. It’s not necessary to speak more about PSG because we played against them one week ago.
“I speak about us, us and us and what we have to do. We are going to try to do it.”