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This chance is not coming back - Guardiola issues Champions League rallying call to City

By Dom Farrell
Manchester City are facing up to a looming Champions League ban verdict

London, July 11: Pep Guardiola has urged his Manchester City players to fight for the Champions League "until the last effort they have in their bodies" after Friday's draw mapped out a devilishly tough route to glory.

The deposed Premier League champions hold a 2-1 last-16 advantage over Real Madrid ahead of the August 7 return at the Etihad Stadium.

The winners of that tie will take on the victors of Lyon versus Juventus – the Ligue 1 outfit 1-0 to the good at the midway point – at UEFA's mini-tournament to decide the coronavirus-impacted Champions League in Lisbon on August 15.

Whichever team progresses from that quarter-final will meet the team remaining from Barcelona or Napoli and Bayern Munich or Chelsea.

"All of us want to try, to be ourselves in the game against Real Madrid, to try to defend really well and suffer the bad moments," Guardiola said ahead of Saturday's Premier League trip to Brighton and Hove Albion.

"Try to impose our game and our football, try to score our goals and defend the game against Real Madrid. It is incredible what [Madrid] have done in this competition, nobody has done it."

If City finally claim the prize Madrid have lifted on a record 13 occasions, they will do so in unique circumstances heightened by the reality of a trying season on and off the field.

Guardiola's team could be facing up to their final European game for two years next month, if the Court of Arbitration for Sport decides to uphold a two-season ban for contravening UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules. A verdict in the case is due on Monday.

The Champions League, along with the FA Cup, offers the chance to triumphantly salvage a campaign where they meekly surrendered the Premier League title to Liverpool.

This crescendo of events is something Guardiola believes has got through to his players.

"I feel the motivation," he said. "I have the feeling from my players and the club that we have, in the next four weeks, something that is not coming back again.

"Of course, we have the chance to fight but the situation that we have is not coming back again.

"I think the big clubs don't miss these chances to try until the last effort they have in their bodies."

The situation will certainly not come back for club great David Silva.

City's veteran playmaker is set to leave at the end of his contract and, as a World Cup and two-time European Championship winner with Spain, he is seeking the biggest honour to have eluded him over the course of a decorated career.

"David has won everything," Guardiola said. "The World Cup, European Championships with Spain, the Premier League and all the titles you can achieve except the Champions League.

"All of the players want to try but the younger ones, maybe they think they have more chances.

"Maybe David might go back to Europe with another top club and have another chance. But I'm pretty sure after one decade in this club, he will try."

With a top-four place in the Premier League now guaranteed – whatever that comes to mean – Guardiola's main challenge for the rest of the campaign is getting Silva and the rest to next weekend's FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal and the Madrid match in prime condition.

He concedes this is a balancing act but will not shirk from giving Premier League minutes to the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, even if sight of the star midfielder receiving a heavy knock during the closing stages of Wednesday's 5-0 win over Newcastle United caused understandable disquiet among the City faithful.

"That's part of football. The important thing is they are fit," he added.

"We cannot say one or two games, don't play and then come back. Sometimes the players who play regularly are in better condition for the important games.

"Arsenal is an important point but it's important to keep momentum and rhythm to the way we play."

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Story first published: Saturday, July 11, 2020, 3:00 [IST]
Other articles published on Jul 11, 2020
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