Control: If Manchester City does not succeed against RB Leipzig on Tuesday, according to Pep Guardiola, the fate of the Champions League is a coin toss that advances beyond third place in the Bundesliga to the quarter-finals.
The tie is 1-1 as Marco Rose’s side arrive at Etihad Stadium for a high-stakes night. Guardiola, who has a fully fit squad, is concerned open competition would mean fewer chances of progressing after reviewing the first leg.
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“We were better in the first half. They were better in the second half,” he says. “We saw the game [again] and we’ve been trying to figure out what we’re gonna do. We’re going to try to tweak a few things that might help us have more control and play a little better.
“I believe in transition games it always is [the toss of] a coin. It can work out in your favor or [not] but it’s a KO game and maybe we need to break more of the game, maybe not. We will see. In the end, the game will determine what we have to do.”
Despite being asked time and again if he guided City to Champions League victory, Guardiola loves the competition. “It’s nice to play against teams from another part of Europe, not the same as England. It’s something special, so nice to show our club all over Europe,” he says.
City are second in the Premier League – five points behind Arsenal – and host Burnley in the FA Cup sixth round on Saturday before the international break, with the manager intent on staying at his side in all three competitions.
“It’s really important,” says Guardiola. “Not only would it be a bad break, but to be alive for the last two and a half months of the season, extending our stay in the competitions, being close to Arsenal will be good.
“That’s why we’re here: to win trophies. I don’t know of any manager or player who doesn’t want to win.”
Guardiola is adamant his City era will be judged on winning the Champions League. “It’s public opinion. That doesn’t mean I agree, but absolutely, I’ll be judged on it. Ever since I arrived here, before the first Champions League game, sat in front of the media for the first time, people have said I’m here to win the Champions League. I said what?’
“If I were Real Madrid’s manager – that’s not going to happen – I could understand it, but here I don’t know. But I accept it. No matter how much I’m going through, it’s not going to change that.”
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Kevin De Bruyne displays a similar, phlegmatic attitude when asked if it would be a regret not to triumph in the European Blue Ribbon club competition. “Not really — I don’t regret the things I do,” he says.
“Every competition I enter I try to win. You lose a lot more than you win, but luckily I was able to win a lot.”
He is not upset about the ongoing topic of city in the Champions League. “If the noise is important to you, then it will annoy people a bit,” he says. “We didn’t win it but we did really well in the Champions League and I know people base everything on winning.
“Obviously I want to win but I know as long as we don’t I’ll get the same questions and I’m fine because people judge you on that. We’re just trying to win these games and be the best people and team we can be.”
At 31, De Bruyne isn’t thinking about when retirement might come. “I’m a perfectionist,” he says. “Whatever I do in football or in life, I always want it to be 100%. In that regard, I would think about it when the time came, but it’s not necessarily now.
“Right now I want to stay at the highest possible level for as long as possible, but that’s not my decision alone. I don’t know how long I will play. As long as I enjoy it, I play football.”