Pep Guardiola has told Manchester City to play their Champions League semi-final against Paris Saint-German “like a friendly” and enjoy the pressure of facing last season’s runners-up.
Guardiola, in a conspicuously relaxed mood before the first leg at PSG on Wednesday, urged the players to learn from the example of his mentor, the former Barcelona manager Johan Cruyff. Guardiola won the competition twice as head coach when at Camp Nou, in 2009 and 2011, and has managed in seven previous semi-finals, with Barça or Bayern Munich. This is City’s second appearance in the last four.
PSG have a forward line that features Neymar, who won the competition in 2015 with Barcelona, and the World Cup winner Kylian Mbappé, but Guardiola wants City to focus on their game.
“We know we are going to suffer and they are going to have chances,” he said. “All we can do is try to create chances too; I know the weapons they have up front.
“But at the same time we are in the semi-finals of the Champions League – what do you expect? Are we going to spend 90 minutes thinking how good one player is or another or try to do what we want to do?
“We are going to concede counterattacks; they have the quality with Mbappé, Neymar, Di María, Verratti, Paredes. With Marquinhos and the keeper [Keylor Navas] too, they have a lot of weapons.
“I learn from Johan Cruyff: when you arrive at these stages there is only one thing you can do and that is enjoy the game, the responsibility and the pressure. Enjoy the fact that you have not lived [too many] of these situations.
“Top players enjoy this situation because they take the responsibility. That’s why the greatest win this competition and the greatest clubs win this competition because they play it as a friendly game. That’s what I want to see in my team and that is we are going to do.”
Guardiola recalled his old coach’s words to him and the rest of the first Barcelona team to win the European Cup, in 1992. “The mythical sentence, just one minute before at Wembley against Sampdoria, was: ‘Get out and enjoy it,’” said Guardiola. “I know that is not the sentence I’m going to say to my players. I’m not Cruyff.
“But for this moment enjoy the travel, the coffee you take in the terminal, the hotel, our dinner together watching the other semi-final, the press conference and the hotel, the walk, training. All of the process – it is not just the moment you are going to play.
“We are privileged to be one of the best four teams in Europe this season and we must enjoy it. We know how tough, how difficult it is to be here and that’s why Cruyff had this idea. Once you arrive at this stage you are nervous because you [may be] thinking of the consequences, not the joy of playing the game and the [potential] pleasure of beating them. … You have to say: ‘We are good too so let’s go.’ This is the mindset of the greatest teams and athletes in all sports.
“When I arrive in the semi-finals, I am always calmer than in other competitions, other moments. I have the sense of the work well done already, and I see the team so happy. I think I’m in a good mood.”
Neymar also struck a contented note. “We’ve beaten Bayern and we’ll do everything in our power to beat Manchester [City]. I feel good. Psychologically, mentally, I’ll do everything I can to win this game, to lead the team towards the final. I said at the start of the season my main goal was to win the Champions League.”