Football

Pep Guardiola takes blame for Man City’s European exit

But Pep is looking to close the gaps as his side start new Champions League title bid with Porto

Pep Guardiola admitted yesterday that he still feels responsible for the manner of Manchester City's Champions league exit last season, saying they have to "close these gaps" as they chase European glory.

City host Porto in their opening Champions League Group C match tomorrow morning (Singapore time), with Guardiola's failing in the tournament weighing heavily on both the Spanish manager and his club.

     Champions League
MANCHESTER CITY PORTO

Despite all their domestic success in recent years, City have never gone beyond the semi-finals of the Champions League and Guardiola has found the competition equally vexing for much of the last decade.

Since he won the Champions League as Barcelona boss for the second time in 2011, he has failed to return to the final of Europe's elite club competition.

That nine-year drought includes four years of frustration since he took charge at City in 2016.

In that time, he has seen City beaten by AS Monaco in the last 16 and Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Lyon in the quarter-finals. He also lost in three semi-finals during his time as Bayern Munich coach before moving to City.

Last season's shock 3-1 defeat by Lyon in Lisbon was especially galling, as City were heavy favourites.

"It was a tough moment," said the 49-year-old Catalan.

"I felt so responsible for how the club felt, the players. I was not able to drive the club and I feel responsible.

"But we have to accept the reality that we were not good enough. We did not play bad, we played some good moments but we sometimes made mistakes and, in this competition, you cannot do that."

Guardiola said City were not far away from cracking the secret of European success.

"I always had the feeling we were close," he said.

"The gaps were little, but you have to close these gaps. We have to solve it. It's the past. Now is a new opportunity and we are going to start at zero again."

Adding to the unease around City ahead of their European campaign is the unresolved issue of his future.

He is out of contract at the end of the season and has yet to agree a new deal, amid speculation that he may decide to leave the Etihad Stadium next year.

However, Guardiola has insisted he has to earn a prolonged stay at the club by improving on last season's disappointment, which also saw them surrender the English Premier League to Liverpool and win only the League Cup.

And a good start tomorrow will go a long way, especially since he sees home games as crucial to progress to the knockout rounds.

"The reality to win the home games is so important for qualification," he said.

"We're still a little bit away from where we want to be."

City were without Kevin de Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus, Aymeric Laporte and Benjamin Mendy for last Saturday's 1-0 EPL win over Arsenal, but Guardiola said the situation is slowly improving.

The game against the Gunners also marked the return of City's record goalscorer Sergio Aguero, making his first appearance for four months after knee surgery.

"Oleksandr Zinchenko is back. Ilkay Guendogan, Bernardo Silva and Joao Cancelo are in good condition. We expect Mendy back soon so the team will grow," Guardiola said. - AFP

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