Pep Guardiola insists Manchester City haven’t earned the right to be compared with Barcelona and warned his players they are a red card away from Champions League disaster.
City are almost certain to reach the quarter-finals of this season’s competition as they lead Basle 4-0 going into Wednesday night’s second leg at the Etihad.
But Guardiola tempered expectations that the runaway Premier League leaders are also favourites to land Europe’s top prize as he played down comparisons with his old club.
Pep Guardiola insists his side have not earned the right to be compared with Barcelona
The Spaniard, who won the European Cup three times as a coach and player at the Nou Camp, believes City cannot have such lofty aspirations when they have only lifted the Carabao Cup under him.
‘That team dominated for the last decade, and have 15-20 years with different managers and different players,’ said Guardiola. ‘We won just the first title. To join this kind of team you have to be there a long time.
‘It is a completely different players. They won a lot in the past. We are new. We won one title but it is not comparing. It is not good for us comparing with one team.
‘We are almost in the quarter-finals, we are almost champions of the Premier League. But we are not in the quarter-finals, we are not champions, that is why we have to be calm.
‘That is the best advice I can give to my players. Tomorrow, it would be just the second time in our whole history in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. We don’t have legacy behind us.’
Although overcoming Basle is all but guaranteed, Guardiola has enough experience of the fine margins at this level to avoid complacency in the latter stages of the Champions League.
He pointed to Fabian Delph’s red card in the shock FA Cup defeat at Wigan and Oleksandar Zinchenko’s good fortune in only receiving a yellow card for his challenge on Victor Moses in the 1-0 win over Chelsea on Sunday as examples of incidents that could prove very costly in Europe.
He added: ‘If people say we are favourites it is because maybe so far we have done really good. But Wigan play good for 44 minutes, one action, the red card.
‘Zinchenko on Moses, and orange card – could be yellow, could be red. If it is red you are out of the Champions League.
‘Madrid before the first game against PSG – “Oh, Madrid is not good, not playing well”. They won 3-1. It is a different competition.’
‘Always it is time to learn. In the Champions League it is so important how to handle the bad moments and the good moments – how you concede, how you create. Tomorrow, I would like to see a team where we don’t concede, we have control, we don’t concede set-pieces, don’t concede from counter-attacks. It is a good moment to see when we are 1-0, 2-1, how we handle the situation.
‘We start again from zero. But we have to be focused to not make a mistake, just to be focused on what we have to do and control the game and go through. That is the target. A Champions League game is something special and you have to be focused. In football everything can happen – a red card, they can score one or two goals.’
Guardiola will wear his yellow ribbon on the touchline against Basle because it is allowed under UEFA rules, having accepted an FA charge for displaying a political symbol.
However, FA chief executive Martin Glenn has been forced to apologise after discussing the issue and comparing the Star of David to the Nazi swastika.
Guardiola believes that Glenn did not understand that the ribbon is a show of support for four jailed politicians and not for Catalan independence as a whole.
‘Mr Glenn has apologised so okay,’ said Guardiola. ‘But the first impression when I hear that is because he didn’t understand what the yellow ribbon means. It is simple like that.
‘He make a comment that is far away. It is not about independence or not independence. It is about four people who are in jail when they didn’t do anything to be in jail. It is simple. I think now he will understand because he didn’t understand the reality of the situation.
‘Many times I speak for myself and after I regret what I said, but I am sure now that is not going to happen.
‘There are the FA rules. They have them and they apply them. I accept the decision because I have to. That doesn’t mean they are right or wrong. It doesn’t mean I agree or don’t agree. I said from the beginning, if the FA said I shouldn’t wear the ribbon, I accept it. The yellow ribbon is always going to be there. There are still people in prison in an unfair way.’
City’s director of football Txiki Begiristain met with referees’ chief Mike Riley at the CFA on Tuesday morning after the club raised concerns over some of the tackles on their players in recent months.
But Guardiola was not at the meeting but insisted that the issue affects all Premier League teams and not just City.
He said: ‘I didn’t know Mike Riley was here and I don’t know which issues they talk about. When I spoke about the tackles, it is not about Manchester City players, it is about football. I accept the physicality here in England. It is not Manchester City, it is football.’