Pep Guardiola out to avoid Greek tragedy against Olympiacos with Manchester City boss set to name strong side in bid to qualify for Champions League knockout stages before hectic Christmas period
- Pep Guardiola is taking no chances in the Champions League group stages
- The Catalan boss will name a strong starting XI against Olympiacos on Tuesday
- Guardiola is hoping to wrap up qualification to the knockout stages this month
It has strengthened his view that, even allowing for the manic schedule, Manchester City cannot afford to take team selection risks in Europe.
Tuesday night is the first of a double-header against Olympiacos, with qualification only two wins away. City hope they can beat the Greek champions twice, progress to the last 16, and then field a team sprinkled with academy prospects — giving some key players a rest heading into the hectic Christmas period.
Pep Guardiola is set to name a strong starting Man City Xi to face Olympiacos on Tuesday
‘We are in an ideal position,’ said Guardiola. ‘It’s a tricky competition. People don’t believe me. Every game is difficult. People say it’s easy and they predict the teams who go through but anything can happen.
‘People said when we drew Shakhtar Donetsk (last season), “Oh it is easy” and look at what happened with them this year: they win in Madrid and draw with Inter so it is really tough.’
City were overwhelming favourites to top a group also including Porto and Marseille and are even more so now. Failure to reach the knockout stages would be unthinkable. But Guardiola is refusing to take anything for granted.
‘Teams are better than 10 years ago, there is more money everywhere, not just in a few clubs. Last season we played Atalanta and people said, “It’s only Atalanta”, but they got close to the semi-finals.
‘The managers are preparing better than ever, the teams know what they have to do. The spaces to attack, they are ridiculous — it’s like they don’t exist. ‘It’s tough. It’s not about taking away our responsibility, we have to qualify. But every time we do, I say congratulations to the players because it is the first success of the season.
He is taking no risks when it comes to qualification for the Champions League group stages
‘Tomorrow is an incredible step for the next round.’
City will do that without Sergio Aguero, still missing with a hamstring injury. Guardiola did not rule him out of Sunday’s meeting with Liverpool and expects to have fellow striker Gabriel Jesus available again.
While goals have dried up in their absence, Guardiola’s new centre half pairing of Aymeric Laporte and Ruben Dias are correcting defensive deficiencies, only conceding once in three away games together.
‘We struggled a lot last season for the problems we had with Vincent Kompany leaving for Belgium and the injury to Aymeric,’ said Guardiola. ‘We were damaged for a demanding season. Now we have new players and alternatives.’
The City boss also lavished praise on his defensive pairing of Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte