Pep Guardiola expects to be labeled a “failure” if Manchester City doesn’t reach the semifinals of the Champions League for the fifth straight year since he joined the English club.
City holds a 2-1 lead over Borussia Dortmund heading into the second leg of the quarterfinals on Wednesday, so the team has its best chance yet of reaching the semifinals for the first time under Guardiola.
The Spanish coach hasn’t won the competition — or even reached the final — since capturing the second of his titles with Barcelona in 2011, with critics blaming him for overthinking his tactics in the big knockout matches at not only City but when in charge of Bayern Munich from 2013-16.
“This is a business, and business is business. Business is winning,” said Guardiola, who was in an animated mood at a news conference on Tuesday. “If we don’t win, I will be a failure. If we win, it will be ‘Oh, how good is Pep.’”
Since Guardiola joined in 2016, City was eliminated by Monaco in the last 16 before losing in the quarterfinals in three straight seasons, to Liverpool, Tottenham and Lyon.
City was the favorite on each occasion.
Ilkay Gundogan joined City at the same time as Guardiola, and the Germany midfielder believes the team’s domestic dominance in that period has its drawbacks when it comes to playing against tougher opponents and with bigger pressure in the Champions League.
Put simply, City is not used to having to respond to setbacks.
“We need to learn that it’s normal to struggle,” Gundogan said. “At this stage, playing against the best teams in Europe, it’s normal. Everyone has quality and it’s also normal to concede a goal.
“But maybe it’s something we are not too used to, going behind, conceding or struggling. Because we are used to always dominating the game, having possession … Mistakes are normal. Just trying to deal with it is the only thing that was a little bit missing.”
City showed some backbone in the first leg, responding to conceding an equalizer by Marco Reus in the 84th minute by scoring a winner in the 90th through Phil Foden.
Indeed, Gundogan has a feeling this season could be different for City because of team’s improved stability in defense has led to only two goals being conceded in nine games so far this campaign.
“I feel like we are much more stable at the moment, especially defensively. We are defending quite well and I think the more you proceed in the competition, the more important that gets as well,” he said. “Obviously it gives you a safe feeling when you know that your defensive line is working great, your goalkeeper is great, you are working as a team defensively really well.”
That does not mean City will head to Dortmund looking to simply defend its lead. Guardiola’s intention, as usual, is to win the game.
“If you think in this type of game about the consequences, or the goals you have to score or can concede, you forget what you have to do,” Guardiola said.
Gundogan agreed, adding: “For us, the best case is always going into a game feeling we want to win the game. Defending a result I don’t feel it fits us. It’s the way we are as players. It’s not the way we play as a team.”
City is still going for an unprecedented quadruple of major trophies this season, having reached the final of the English League Cup, the semifinals of the FA Cup and taken an 11-point lead in the Premier League.
Still, though, despite all the domestic trophies he has won at City — two league titles, three League Cups and one FA Cup — Guardiola cannot be sure what his players’ mental state will be in this latest Champions League knockout match.
“Right now, I don’t know. Honestly,” he said. “About the controlled emotions, whatever happens in the game, the many, many instances, I don’t know. They are human beings. They have feelings.”