LONDON • For all of Manchester City's quality, midfielder Ilkay Gundogan has said that his team can be considered as one of Europe's elite clubs only if they lift the elusive Champions League trophy.
City have won the Premier League three times since the Abu Dhabi United Group bought them in 2008, but have never gone past the semi-final stage of Europe's premier club competition.
"If you want to be in the international elite... you need to clinch this trophy," Gundogan told uefa.com ahead of today's last-16, first-leg clash at Schalke.
"I think that, if we were to win it some day, the club would enter a new era, the same level as Real (Madrid), Barcelona, Bayern (Munich) or Juventus, clubs that are maybe a step above us."
City were defeated in the last 16 three times in the previous five seasons while their only semi-final appearance came in 2016 when they were knocked out by Real 1-0 on aggregate.
"We've experienced a lot in the Champions League in recent years, not all of it positive, of course. We should've won it at least once," Gundogan added.
"The biggest low was probably being knocked out by Liverpool (in the quarter-finals) last season.
"For that reason, the motivation to go far in this competition is huge and I think we have the quality required."
As their Premier League title rivals Liverpool sunned themselves in Marbella last week, City were getting muddy in beating Newport 4-1 in the FA Cup last Saturday to stay on course for a historic clean sweep of four trophies.
City, top of the Premier League on goal difference, should cruise past a Schalke side languishing in 14th place in the German Bundesliga.
After the Schalke clash, City will bid to lift their first silverware of the season when they take on Chelsea in the League Cup final on Sunday.
"It's better to be in this situation," insisted manager Pep Guardiola at going for four trophies rather than concentrating playing resources towards Champions League and Premier League success.
"It's important in February to be here, in four competitions. Now we go to the biggest stage, the Champions League, and we will see (what happens) in May and June."
Rather than fearing the fatigue from fighting on four fronts, Guardiola is embracing the challenge and at least has the luxury of strength in depth to call on.
Leroy Sane, Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez all scored against Newport to make their case for a Champions League start in Gelsenkirchen.
Meanwhile, Massimiliano Allegri's Juventus open their own last-16 tie at Atletico Madrid today as they continue their push for the European title which has eluded them for over two decades.
"We have to score at least one goal in Madrid, our qualification depends on this," warned the Italian.
"The two teams are evenly balanced."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
SCHALKE V MAN CITY
Singtel TV Ch110 & StarHub Ch214, tomorrow, 3.55am