Only a collapse of epic proportions can stop Manchester City from reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League on Wednesday, but Pep Guardiola still feels it is necessary to warn his players about the fine margins at this level just in case.
City have a four-goal lead and home advantage against Swiss underdogs Basle, suggesting the second leg of their last-16 tie at the Etihad will be little more than a formality.
However, Guardiola is wary of the threat that red cards could pose to his team’s progress, both on Wednesday night and in the final stages of the competition.
Pep Guardiola has warned his players about the fine margins in the Champions League
Manchester City head into the second leg against Basle with a four-goal lead from the first leg
Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling share a joke as City prepare for Wednesday’s Etihad clash
On Tuesday, he pointed to Fabian Delph’s sending-off in the shock FA Cup defeat to Wigan, and Oleksandr Zinchenko’s good fortune in only receiving a yellow card for his challenge on Chelsea’s Victor Moses at the weekend, as examples of incidents that could prove very costly in Europe.
‘A Champions League game is something special,’ said Guardiola. ‘In football, everything can happen – a red card, they can score one or two goals.
‘If what happened in Wigan happens in the Champions League — with the red card for Fabian Delph after 44 minutes — you don’t win the Champions League.
‘With the action from Oleksandr Zinchenko in the first half on Victor Moses, it was an ‘orange’. It could be yellow, it could be red. If it’s red, you are out of the Champions League.’
Fabian Delph (second left) was shown a straight red card in City’s FA Cup defeat by Wigan
Oleksandr Zinchenko (R) escaped a red card for a challenge on Victor Moses (L) on Sunday
Red cards have cost City in the past, notably when they were knocked out two years in a row by Barcelona after Martin Demichelis, Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy were sent off in three of the four ties.
In Guardiola’s first season in charge, City suffered a painful 4-0 defeat in the group stage in Barcelona after goalkeeper Claudio Bravo was dismissed.
The Spaniard maintains that City cannot be compared to his old club despite being clear at the top of the Premier League and among the favourites for the Champions League.
He added: ‘We are almost in the Champions League quarter-finals and we are almost champions of the Premier League, but we are not in the quarter-finals and we are not champions.
‘That is why we have to be calm. That’s the best advice I can give to my players.’
FA chief Martin Glenn has apologised for comparing the Star of David to the Nazi swastika
‘I think with his comments he didn’t understand the reality of what happened,’ Guardiola said
Ironically, Guardiola broached the threat of red cards to his team on the day that referees’ chief Mike Riley met with City’s director of football Txiki Begiristain to discuss the club’s concerns over some of the tackles made on their players this season.
‘It’s not about Manchester City players, it’s about football,’ said Guardiola. ‘I accept the physicality here in England.’
The City boss will wear a yellow ribbon on the touchline on Wednesday night because UEFA rules allow it, having accepted an FA charge for displaying a political symbol in domestic games.
FA chief Martin Glenn has apologised for comparing the Star of David to the Nazi swastika when discussing the issue, and Guardiola believes Glenn did not understand that the ribbon is a show of support for four jailed politicians and not Catalan independence as a whole.
Guardiola added: ‘I think with his comments he didn’t understand the reality of what happened with the situation, but I’ pretty sure now he will know it.’