MANCHESTER: Pep Guardiola has admitted Manchester City are “far away” from challenging for European club football’s biggest prize.
The manager of the world’s self-styled wealthiest football club has been in the unusual position of watching the Champions League quarter-finals from a distance this week.
City’s exit against Monaco in the last 16 ended a remarkable run that had seen the Spanish manager reach at least the semi-final stage of Europe’s top competition in all his combined seven seasons in charge of Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
As Guardiola joked recently, such a record made him the “exceptional one”, although the City manager believes there is much work to do if he is to replicate such success with his current employers.
“We are far away,” said Guardiola. “Not in terms of the quality, in terms of how they play situations.
“We had that in the Monaco game and we cannot forget how good they are after what they did (winning) in Dortmund.
“We were able to score six goals in two games and we are out. It’s about how you live and handle the situation.
“For that you need experience. Hopefully we got that experience there and it’ll help us next season.”
Curiously, Guardiola’s analysis disregards the fact that City actually reached the semi-final stage 12 months ago, his predecessor Manuel Pellegrini leading the side to a narrow two-legged defeat by Spanish and European giants Real Madrid.
That is just one area in which Guardiola’s critics claim the club has actually taken a backward step under his stewardship, although City do seem well-placed to at least ensure they are in next season’s competition by finishing in the top four of the Premier League.
Meanwhile Guardiola said the intense level of competition in the Champions League meant that reaching the semi-finals was a considerable achievement.
“We need to qualify for next season,” he said. “Not all the magnificent teams are in the quarter-finals.
“A lot of them are not there. They even went out in the first stage. A lot of amazing teams will be out in the quarter-finals and huge teams.”
Guardiola, whose City side are away to Southampton on Saturday, added: “For example, two years ago Juventus went to the final in Berlin. This season, they’re amazing. Last season, they went out in the (last 16) against Bayern Munich.
“The Champions League is so demanding. The people don’t believe you’re out but a lot of situations happen.
“Believe me, the exception is to be seven years in a row there. The exception is not to be out once with City in the last 16, quarter-finals or semi-finals.
“That can happen. The exception is seven times in a row at the semi-final or final.”
Guardiola is widely expected to make wholesale changes to his squad although the form of 28-goal Sergio Aguero, whose efforts have come in a season disjointed by injuries and suspensions totalling seven games, suggests the Argentinian may have a role to play, despite the pending return to fitness of newcomer Gabriel Jesus.
“I said many times that he (Aguero) is involved in the game,” explained Guardiola. “My feeling before that he was just waiting to score a goal.
“Now he’s involved in the game. Not just the defensive part — he’s helped us a lot — but he is doing all he can do in our process to create chances. That’s why.
“There are no complaints about what he has done after the injury for Gabriel Jesus.
“His attitude was always good, from the beginning. Maybe now he understands better what we’re looking for.
“He’s trying and that is what I want. When he misses chances, always you can improve, but we’ve no complaints.
“He’s such an aggressive guy. Seven games banned because he is so aggressive. Maybe next season he plays as a central defender!”