Champions League preview: Pep Guardiola aiming to end 10 years of hurt in Europe’s premier competition

Manchester City’s bid to win their first Champions League title pits them against Real Madrid in the last four on Tuesday night.

City have not won European football’s premier club competition and were beaten 1-0 by Chelsea in the 2020/21 final.

This is City’s 11th Champions League campaign; they have been involved in the group stage every season since 2011/12 and have now reached the knockout rounds in nine successive campaigns.

Former Barcelona boss Guardiola, who has won the Champions League twice but not since 2011, says he has learned to live with a perception that he needs to win the competition.

Yet the club’s long-held European ambitions remained unfulfilled last season as City fell short in the continent’s showpiece final, losing to Chelsea in Porto – one of many City mishaps in the closing stages of a Champions League campaign under Guardiola.

There was the naivety against Monaco in 2017, the chaos against Liverpool in 2018 and the caution against Tottenham when Kevin De Bruyne was left on the bench in 2019. Against Lyon in 2020, Guardiola decided to play Rodri and Fernandinho and his side were eliminated.

Just under 11 years have now passed since Guardiola last won the biggest club game in European football.

Barcelona were extraordinary that evening at Wembley, delivering a performance that is rightly regarded as one of the greatest that any side has ever produced. This Manchester City team have arguably matched those levels of domination domestically but Guardiola’s job at City will only be truly complete with Champions League glory.

Team news: Walker, Stones remain doubtful
Kyle Walker and John Stones both remain doubtful for Man City.

Right-back Walker has missed City’s last three games while centre-back Stones suffered a knock in the Premier League victory over Brighton last Wednesday.

The potential absence of the England pair means City could have significant defensive issues for the Etihad Stadium clash as their other first-choice full-back, Joao Cancelo, is suspended.

Guardiola said: “They are doubts. They didn’t train.

“Kyle has not trained for the last week to 10 days and John not since Brighton.

“We’ll have the training session. I don’t know what will come out of it but let’s see how they feel. I’ll speak with them, see how they feel and take a decision.”

David Alaba was taken off with a thigh issue against Osasuna but he has been named in the Real Madrid squad for the trip to Manchester.

Ferland Mendy has not played since suffering an injury in the quarter-final second leg at home to Chelsea but like Alaba, is expected to return.

Luka Modric was rested in the win over Osasuna but is set to return. Eden Hazard, Luka Jovic and Mariano Diaz all will miss out so Gareth Bale is the only fit back-up striker to Karim Benzema, although he has not started a game for Real since August.

Can Pep stop Benzema?

Guardiola also recognised that his team will have to deal with the goalscoring threat of striker Karim Benzema if they are to reach the final of the Champions League for a second time in three seasons.

France international Benzema has scored seven goals in his last three Champions League fixtures, including four over the two legs of Real’s quarter-final with Chelsea.

He arrives for this tie in devastating form. Benzema has 15 goals in his last 11 Madrid appearances including a 92nd-minute winner at Sevilla although he did miss two penalties in Real’s latest win over Osasuna.

Guardiola said: “We’ll have to defend well. Yeah, Benzema scored a lot of goals against Chelsea, but not just against Chelsea, throughout his career and he’s a fantastic player. So we know it. But yeah, we’ll try to defend well when we have to defend, because we will have moments that we have to defend, and try to, create chances to score goals. It’s going to happen.”

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Author: Arnold Watts