Pep calls on 12th man in crunch time

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, at yesterday's press conference, wants the home crowd at the Etihad Stadium tomorrow to be as lively as the one when they beat Liverpool 2-1. City lost the Champions League quarter-finals first leg to Spurs 1-0.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, at yesterday's press conference, wants the home crowd at the Etihad Stadium tomorrow to be as lively as the one when they beat Liverpool 2-1. City lost the Champions League quarter-finals first leg to Spurs 1-0. PHOTO: REUTERS

Fan support crucial as pressure piles on City and clashes with Spurs could define season

LONDON • Pep Guardiola may just be feeling the heat a little more than usual, if his crankiness at his pre-match press conference yesterday was anything to go by.

His Manchester City side remain in contention for a historic haul of four trophies this season, but winning the one by which the Spaniard's time at the Etihad will be judged depends on overturning a 1-0 Champions League quarter-final, first-leg deficit against Tottenham today.

When asked if he feels that there is increasing pressure on him to win City's maiden Champions League title, Guardiola quipped: "Do I have to win it? The chairman said I have to win the Champions League three times in a row!"

"The Champions League is tough. We fail all the time. Sorry guys, I'm a failure!" he added in an outburst laced with sarcasm.

"In football you lose more than you win. We always try and improve. I try to do my best."

The 48-year-old has also called for City fans to show their support but said that he was curious to what extent they will back his team.

"We need to know our supporters will push us. I want to see tomorrow if the fans want to get to the semi-final," Guardiola said.

A BRIDGE TOO FAR?

The Champions League is tough. We fail all the time. Sorry guys, I'm a failure!

PEP GUARDIOLA, City's Spanish manager, on the 'impossible' targets set by the club's chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak.

LET'S ENJOY OURSELVES

We should not put pressure on ourselves about these situations. There's nothing better than the Champions League quarter-finals at the moment.

SON HEUNG-MIN, Spurs' optimistic South Korean forward, who has deputised ably for the injured Harry Kane.

"We need them in our bad moments, at this stage we cannot go through. I'm really curious to (know) how our fans will be.

"I want the crowd to be like it was against Liverpool (2-1 win in January). I want to see if our fans really want to get to a semi-final. I want to see it tomorrow."

With or without a raucous atmosphere at the Etihad, the good thing for City is that they have won 24 of 26 home matches in all competitions this season.

They have also been an offensive juggernaut, outscoring the opposition 95-15 and netting five or more goal on nine occasions.

City have already lifted the League Cup, have reached the FA Cup final and are locked in a head-to-head battle with Liverpool to retain their Premier League title.

But European glory is a long sought-after goal of the club's big-money Middle Eastern ownership, making this quite possibly their most pressure-packed test.

"It doesn't matter what happens tomorrow, next season we will be there (in the Champions League) again. That is incredible success for ourselves," a defiant Guardiola added.

Tottenham's South Korean forward Son Heung-min is also ready for the big clash and insisted he has already proved he can shoulder the burden of replacing Harry Kane.

Kane is likely to miss the rest of the season after the striker suffered yet another ankle ligament injury in the first leg against City, while midfielder Dele Alli is a doubt after fracturing his hand in the same match.

But Son, who scored the winning goal in the opening leg, has shown this season that playing without Kane need not be fatal to his side's European ambitions.

He has netted nine goals in 10 matches with Kane absent this season and he said: "I just enjoy the football. Everyone, not just me, should enjoy the game and scoring and winning.

"We should not put pressure on ourselves about these situations. There's nothing better than the Champions League quarter-finals at the moment."

In fact, Tottenham have won their last five matches without Kane and Son looks in perfect form to maintain that run at City's expense.

The 26-year-old scored the first goal in Tottenham's new stadium against Crystal Palace. Six days later, he was once again the toast of the 62,062 sell-out crowd as he drew first blood against City.

His rise to prominence is even more impressive given he was so frustrated three years ago that he considered leaving Tottenham.

"Sometimes you have tough times to get better," said Son, who has scored 18 goals in all competitions this term.

"The club, the coaching staff, the players, when I have a tough time they help me lots... I'm really grateful for this situation but I'm not finished."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, DPA

MAN CITY V TOTTENHAM

Singtel TV Ch110 & StarHub Ch2 14, tomorrow, 2.55am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 17, 2019, with the headline 'Pep calls on 12th man in crunch time'. Print Edition | Subscribe