Pep Guardiola will have the words of Johan Cruyff ringing in his ears when he sends his players out at the Parc des Princes tonight. It will be Manchester City’s own version of Total Football that gets them through to their first Champions League final.
Guardiola admitted he can only get to sleep when he stops thinking about the damage Kylian Mbappé and Neymar can inflict on opponents. His answer is for City to make attack their best form of defence and learn from past failures in the competition.
When the coronavirus pandemic reduced last season’s knockout stages to a one-legged format, Guardiola paid the price for trying to stifle Lyon with a like-for-like formation. With the lesson learned, he says City will attempt to impose themselves on Mauricio Pochettino’s team rather than negate them.
“The best balance is to have the ball. If you have the ball all the time the balance of the team is already there,” Guardiola said. “It is the only way. We are going to concede counter-attacks, they have the quality with Mbappe, Neymar, Di Maria, Verratti, Paredes, the physicality and the personality they have. With Marquinhos and the keeper too, they have a lot of weapons.
“The only way to minimise these kind of things is to impose your game like we have built in the last five years. Lyon beat us with counter-attacks, two or three mistakes, we were done. We will try to impose our game.
“I learn from my experience in this competition that as much as you are close in the latter stages, to be who you are the more chance you have to go through.
“When you are thinking a lot about the opponents and what they do, it will be difficult. In this stage you don’t find opponents who don’t have real skills. The way you play with the ball creates stability in the team and that is what we are going to try to do.”
Guardiola looked relaxed on the eve of his biggest European game at City during his five years at the Etihad Stadium. The mood was how Cruyff approached the big games, his mentor at Barcelona telling him to enjoy the moment.
There was no time to celebrate Sunday’s triumph in the Carabao Cup final. Players were in for a recovery session on Monday then work started on PSG. It is “work” but Guardiola wants them to enjoy being at this stage of the competition and everything that goes with it.
Most of City’s players were not involved in the 2016 season when they last got to the semi-finals and Guardiola wants them to get used to the customs of getting to the business end of Europe’s elite tournament.
“I learnt from Johan Cruyff: when you arrive at these stages there is only one thing you can do and that is enjoy the game,” Guardiola said. “Enjoy the responsibility and the pressure. Enjoy the fact that you have not lived more of these situations. That is elite.
“The mythical sentence, just one minute before we go to Wembley to play our first final that we won in 1992 against Sampdoria. Get out and enjoy it.