Football: City don't have extra incentive to win Champions League, says Guardiola

Manchester City's Raheem Sterling celebrates scoring their fourth goal with teammate on Feb 12, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (REUTERS, AFP) - Manchester City will treat their Champions League knockout tie against Sporting Lisbon just like any other fixture despite the disappointment of a runners-up finish in last season's tournament, manager Pep Guardiola said on Monday (Feb 14).

Guardiola has led City to three league titles since taking over in 2016, though they are yet to win the Champions League, coming closest after reaching the final in June last year, in which they were beaten by Chelsea.

"To go better than last season isn't easy," Guardiola told reporters ahead of Tuesday's last-16, first-leg clash away at Lisbon.

"We're excited and happy to be at this stage.

"I know how important the Champions League is, but we take every Premier League game just as seriously, we saw how tough Norwich City were.

"It's an honour to travel to Portugal to try and win the game. As much as we want or don't want to win it, it comes down to the players on the pitch."

Fullback Joao Cancelo echoed his manager's sentiments, saying that City were taking things one game at a time, despite outside pressure to win the Champions League.

"We know we have one of the best teams in Europe," Cancelo said.

"Winning the Champions League isn't an obligation, you go up against the best players and teams. We're capable but it's not an obligation, but it's good people put this pressure on us. It's a sign people think we're capable of winning it."

Guardiola heaped praise on opponents Sporting, who secured qualification for the Champions League knockout stages for the first time since 2008-09 after navigating their way through a tricky group featuring Borussia Dortmund and Ajax Amsterdam.

"Portugal always has an incredibly competitive league," Guardiola said.

"What I saw from Sporting, their togetherness, the relation between manager and team, and this is the most important thing.

"They are a physical team, with incredible runners in behind. They were champions last season after many years, beating Porto and Benfica. It is because they are a good team.

"They qualified from a group with Ajax and Dortmund, who are good Champions League teams."

The Spaniard added that City will be without Jack Grealish in Lisbon, after saying on Friday that the England midfielder was struggling with an injury similar to the shin problem that kept him out of action for several weeks last season.

"He's better but tomorrow isn't available alongside Cole Palmer and Gabriel Jesus," Guardiola said.

Cancelo, 27, has been outstanding for City this season and is available for selection, and the Portugal defender is glad that he is now an integral part of Guardiola's set-up, after he took some time to adapt to his manager's demands since joining the club in 2019.

"I came from Juventus who had another way of playing, another big club," said Cancelo, who is able to operate on either the right or left of defence, and recently signed a new contract keeping him at the club until 2027.

"I wanted to show my quality. It was more my fault, not the coach. I had to adapt to the team's style of play. With my desire to win, I am happy that I managed to become the player I am today."

Cancelo's recent fine performances have come despite a distressing experience off the field in December when he was attacked during a burglary at his house.

"That's life, it happens in life," he said.

"It was horrific, it terrorised my family. My family didn't deserve to go through that. I had to continue. I have had a lot of obstacles in my life, but I've become a stronger player mentally. That's how I want to keep going."

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