Soccer

Pep Guardiola pleasantly surprised by Manchester City standards ahead of Champions League return

Pep Guardiola has pronounced himself pleasantly surprised by the standards his Manchester City players are hitting in training as he prepares to go one better in the UEFA Champions League this season (on Paramount+).

Last season’s runners-up City return to the competition against RB Leipzig on Wednesday in impressive form having responded to their opening weekend defeat to Tottenham in the Premier League with back to back 5-0 trouncings of Norwich City and Arsenal and an impressive win at Leicester City on Saturday.

All that has been done without Kevin De Bruyne, who has been progressing well in his recovery from the ankle injury he sustained at Euro 2020, while Phil Foden also returned as an unused substitute on Saturday, swelling the ranks of a City attack that had been performing impressively without two key figures. Those were not the only players Guardiola had to do without early in the season with many of his English and Brazilian internationals unavailable to him early in the campaign. Only after that loss away to Spurs were the champions back to anything approximating a full squad, leading to an immediate upswing in form before, during and after their matches.

“The last few weeks were so good,” said Guardiola The way we trained was a little bit of a surprise; after what we achieved last season it was a bit surprising. The commitment of everyone was excellent. And the results against Norwich and Arsenal proved that and on Saturday again. So I don’t have any complaints.

“The way we trained after Tottenham, when we started long weeks to train all together for the first time, I saw many, many, many good things the results of which are here [on the pitch]. Hopefully we can continue with this mentality of raising the standards through the training sessions, that is the key point that will maintain. When you improve your habits at the high levels, your low, low, low moments of the game are minimum.”

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Now will be an important time to minimise those low moments. City will be acutely aware of what happened to their crosstown neighbors when drawn with Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig last season, a final day defeat in the Red Bull Arena sending Manchester United tumbling into the Europa League. 

A reunion between Lionel Messi and his former mentor at the Parc des Princes next month may loom large over Wednesday’s clash between City and Leipzig at the Etihad, but for the time being Guardiola insists PSG could not be further from his mind.

“The most difficult game will be the first against Leipzig,” he said. “This is the most important game we have in this group stage, absolutely. I don’t think one percent about PSG. Absolutely Leipzig because the teams we are going to face in the group stage are so, so difficult. 

“In the last years Leipzig give a lot in Germany always, they’ve not been a real contender with Bayern Munich because Bayern Munich is unstoppable. But to be there all the time, second, third, second, third, with fighting [Borussia] with Dortmund [is impressive]. I know the rhythm, the quality, the pace they have. They will be a good test. But it’s important to arrive in this test playing the way we played on Saturday and do a good game.”



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