Pep Guardiola described Manchester City’s victory over Real Madrid as a major step for his team on the European stage and evidence they have the quality to win the Champions League.
City secured their place in the quarter-finals in Lisbon, where they will play Lyon next Saturday, with a commanding display against the Spanish champions, although they were indebted to two dreadful mistakes from Raphaël Varane for their goals. Raheem Sterling, with his 100th goal for City, and Gabriel Jesus capitalised on the defender’s errors to guide Guardiola’s side into the last eight for the third successive season.
The City manager rejected suggestions his team could be considered favourites to win the competition after inflicting the first Champions League knockout tie defeat of Zinedine Zidane’s coaching career. But he admitted the merited 4-2 aggregate victory was “a sign” City had the potential to triumph in Portugal.
Guardiola said: “It is important. For Real Madrid to beat a big team in the last 16 is normal. For us, if we are going to be champion we have to beat these teams. This is important for our season and for our future. It is similar to when we beat Barcelona in the knockout stage. We don’t have a lot of presence in Europe so it is so important for the club, for all the workers at the club and for our supporters.
“The big clubs lift the titles. Real Madrid reached the final three times in a row and this shows we can do it, but we have to see how we recover. Last season we played Lyon twice and we could not beat them. We have to be calm.”
Jesus made one goal and scored the second with his relentless harrying of Varane and his manager claimed it was a performance that showed the Brazilian forward is coming of age.
Guardiola added: “The big players have to show on the biggest stages in the biggest games and he showed it tonight against the kings of this competition. It was a big step forward for him to show: ‘Here I am, I can win games by myself,’ but the most important thing tonight was we didn’t make mistakes behind. We have suffered for that in this competition before. We were incredibly stable behind.”
Despite leading Real to the La Liga title with a run of 10 consecutive victories after lockdown, Zidane was asked three times by the Spanish media whether he would still be in charge at the Bernabéu next season. “I am here,” he eventually replied. “I am the Real Madrid manager until something happens that is out of the ordinary.”