Manchester City head coach Pep Guardiola returns to media duties this week as he prepares for his side’s opening game of the new UEFA Champions League campaign.
The 52-year-old returned to touchline and training ground duties over the course of the weekend, following a spell away from day-to-day action due to rehabilitation from emergency back surgery in Barcelona.
Juanma Lillo maintained Manchester City’s 100 per cent winning start to the season with victories over Sheffield United and Fulham, while Guardiola picked up where he had left off with a win of his own on Saturday afternoon.
Manchester City came from behind at the London Stadium to defeat David Moyes’ West Ham side through a 1-3 scoreline, thanks to goals from an impressive Jeremy Doku, Bernardo Silva, and Erling Haaland – despite somewhat of an off-day from the Norwegian in front of goal.
City are currently battling with a number of first-team injury concerns, and were forced into fielding a reduced list of substitutes in the capital at the weekend, with John Stones, Mateo Kovacic, Jack Grealish, and Kevin De Bruyne all ruled out through injuries.
The latter is expected to be ruled out for a prolonged period of time, and may not return to Manchester City action until early 2024 following surgery on a persistent hamstring problem sustained in both the Champions League final against Inter last season, and this campaign’s Premier League opener against Burnley.
The fine form and rise of Ederson, the difference of Jeremy Doku, and defending our first Champions League crown were among the topics addressed by Pep Guardiola during his press conference at the City Football Academy on Monday afternoon.
Here is every word from the boss ahead of the mid-week Champions League group stage clash against Red Star Belgrade, as Manchester City look to defend their crown for the first time in the club’s history.
On this season being different
“Every season, we start the competition (the UEFA Champions League), the first game, always the target is to win. First is the group stage, then the last-16, try to win. We didn’t change when we didn’t win. Nothing more than Red Star, it depends on our performance and level. We’re incredible happy to defend this crown. This competition doesn’t allow you to drop. Always we were strong at home, tomorrow is the first step.”
On being more relaxed after winning the Champions League
“(What is) Important is the players don’t feel relaxed. If the board are relaxed, good, they don’t score goals. For our club to win the Champions League is something incredible. How many teams have won one Champions League? In perspective, we didn’t do anything special, just one. For us, the club didn’t have it, to be part of that is proud.”
On trying to defend the Champions League trophy
“Easy, (it is more) difficult to win the first one. Incredible for us (to be) in history. Let’s try to win tomorrow, a team who is so aggressive and fast up-front.”
“(The) First year we arrived here, AS Monaco in last-16, we try to win it. Nothing changes. Now we won it, it’s done – it’s not done. We’re happy but every time we see the picture of the four trophies, it makes me feel so happy. We want to live for the memories? I wouldn’t be here.
“We play against West Ham, play the Super Cup, and against Newcastle (in the Carabao Cup) – not an ideal situation, a long week for Newcastle. It’s the challenge. It’s the competition, go for it. Competition gives us a new challenge, try, I don’t have any doubt we will try.
“Just (Real) Madrid or Milan did it in a few years in a row. I was incredibly proud to be Barcelona manager. We won two times, but not in a row. It’s difficult, we try. Okay, we are not able to do it like the previous seasons? We qualify for next season and try again.”
On memories from the Champions League final in Istanbul
“I didn’t watch the game. Not at all. Look what happened to the team we beat. Italian league, (Milan) derby, won 5-1. I had the feeling it was an incredibly strong team. They proved it, a tight game. The coin came for us. The feeling before, how difficult Inter was, a candidate to be there again. I like to beat different teams, the final was competitive.”
On the 2024 Champions League final being at Wembley
“I didn’t think. Win the first one. When you have to think of the final is the quarters and semis. The first game in these months, it’s a long time.”
On Ederson’s form
“I have a lot of memories when Ederson saves and opponents make good saves. A key player. A lot, his maturity is getting there. We normally don’t concede much, when the opponent arrives, he’s there. The first save against (Michail) Antonio, the corner. An incredible threat with (Kurt) Zouma. Headers, a good save at 1-1. We concede a few shots but these details make the difference. He was there again.”
On the Manchester City squad’s fitness
“They (Mateo Kovacic and Jack Grealish) are getting better, not for tomorrow. Hopefully Nottingham or the next games, we need it. Look how we improved without them. Hopefully we need them soon, we need Jack to compete with Jeremy (Doku), the feeling to play good to be in the squad. Difficult to stay for a long time. It happens, we accept it.”
On Kyle Walker’s improvement
“He’s more focussed than ever, always he can do better. In terms of consistency, it’s not easy. 90 minutes for England, 90 minutes (against West Ham) is so demanding game for all the wingers (they have). Hopefully he can continue and we can give him rest.”
On Jeremy Doku’s start at Manchester City
“When you are the wingers against the full-backs and dribble, (it) is a chance. Sometimes to go back, I have to do it. Support for a winger to dribble to the by-line is a chance. He does it a lot. That’s why I say I was impressed. We knew his quality but didn’t expect the ability to release.
“Julian (Alvarez), Erling (Haaland), Phil (Foden), go close to the box because this guy dribbles and they have to be there, an incredible threat. For a long time I didn’t see a performance of a winger going again and dribbling with his full-back. It won’t happen every week. He has the quality to do it, go, try to do it.”
On Red Star Belgrade manager, Barak Bakhar
“I saw last season was at Maccabi Haifa and they have a difficult group against PSG. I saw a little bit what he has done with Maccaibi against (Kylian) Mbappe, (Lionel) Messi. We were impressed by the courage, the bravery. It doesn’t matter what happens, tomorrow will be quite similar.”
On Red Star Belgrade as a team
“So aggressive, they don’t defend man to man but sometimes do and have to be ready. Quick in transitions, 5-3-2, have to be able to read well.”
“I remember in the last seasons, the culture in these countries, lovely countries. Incredible mentality, all the athletes, incredible competitors. For the schools and kids, they have something special.”
On keeping players fresh
“It belongs to them. I know at half-time (against West Ham) I should come to the players because they were angry. I said why angry, you’re losing 1-0 but performing well. Be clinical upfront and you’d be 3-1 up. We push them, they have an incredible mentality, to never give up. Let’s go. I’m sometimes surprised after five, six years we start the season and I think make fight to show the team.
“Otherwise it doesn’t come from inside. Managers can go on TikTok and repeat motivation (videos). It doesn’t work. every player has to be moved and feel that. We don’t have doubts of the season, to start in that way, important teams take the distance. Arsenal, Liverpool… (Manchester) United don’t start well, like Chelsea (in the Premier League), sooner or later they will take the win. It’s important for us to win the treble.”
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