Midfielder Ilkay Gundogan has declared that Manchester City are “not there yet” in terms of being considered a big team after Tuesday’s 1-0 loss to Tottenham in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final.
Though they will fancy their chances of overturning the deficit at home next week, Pep Guardiola’s side looked short of their best on the night, with Tottenham’s energetic pressing throwing them off their stride – a now-familiar occurrence for City during the Spaniard’s management.
Last season, at the same stage, City were caught cold by Liverpool during a 3-0 loss in the first leg, which turned into a 5-1 aggregate defeat after they lost the return leg at home as well. And in the previous campaign, City won a wild first leg at home against Monaco by a score of 5-3, keeping the French side within reach of pulling off an upset which they duly completed with a 3-1 win in France to progress on away goals.
Gundogan, who was part of the Borussia Dortmund team that reached the 2013 final, where he scored in a 2-1 loss to Bayern Munich, says City are guilty of trying too hard in big European games such as Tuesday’s encounter.
“We were not brave enough in the game, there were many simple mistakes,” he told SportBild. “I have the feeling that we are nervous in important Champions League games. We have always made the wrong decisions.
“In such games, we always want to do something special because it means: Champions League semi-finals. Sometimes, less is more.”
The Germany midfielder pointed to Sergio Aguero’s penalty miss in the first half as a pivotal moment, believing that his team would have built on an early goal to put the tie to bed had the Argentine scored from the spot.
“After the missed penalty came the break. Such negative experiences always throw us back too much. If we put the penalty in, we would have taken Tottenham apart. That’s how we got out of the game.
“That must not happen to a big team. That’s why we’re not there yet.”
The midfielder regards Juventus as one of the favourites for the titles and is excited of facing them.
De Jong also admitted that he hopes Cristiano Ronaldo recovers from injury and plays in the quarterfinals as he wants Ajax to face a full strength Juventus team.
“I rate Juventus a little higher than Real Madrid,” De Jong told De Telegraaf, according to Marca.
“Don’t get me wrong, Madrid are a top club, but this season their form is somewhat less [than when they won three consecutive Champions Leagues].
“Juventus are one of the favourites for the trophy. I am curious how we will deal with them. It is a great challenge.
“If we reach our normal level, we can also make it difficult for Juventus.
“I hope that Cristiano Ronaldo has recovered from his injury and plays. He’s a top player and although the chances of us winning are greater [if Juventus] are without him, I want to play against and beat the best players.”
The Catalans are well on course to complete the domestic double having taken an 11-point lead in La Liga while they play Valencia in the Copa del Rey final. However, they’ll be enticed by the prospect of securing another treble.
Here, we analyse the key tactics Ernesto Valverde may employ to get the better of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Click here for United’s key tactics.
ARTHUR ON THE BALL
Barcelona are bound to dominate possession but how they utilise it will determine their success in Manchester. As such, Arthur will be pivotal to scripting what could be a vital away victory. United will try to close down the visitors aggressively as soon as they enter the final third but deeper in midfield, the Catalans should enjoy some time on the ball. It’s not just his vision and passing that makes Arthur dangerous but his outstanding ability to control the tempo of a game.
He’s capable of exchanging passes patiently in midfield before fizzing the ball into the feet of Lionel Messi or Luis Suarez. As things grow increasingly congested through the middle, he’s the one most adept at spreading play by spraying passes out to the advancing full-backs.
COUTINHO OVER MALCOM
With Ousmane Dembele not entirely fit for this encounter, Valverde may opt for Coutinho to start on the left of the front three ahead of Malcom. The former Liverpool star is accustomed to the English game but more importantly, would aid Barca’s attempts to dictate play in a congested midfield.
Coutinho can drop short to link up with his compatriot Arthur, – something he does more effectively than Malcom – giving the visitors a numerical advantage on that side of the midfield. His movement centrally could also draw Ashley Young infield, allowing the marauding Jordi Alba to have a free run down the outside.