In the failure of the very best, Pep Guardiola finds an incentive for the next attempt at Europe's football crown. Basketball icon Michael Jordan and golf legend Jack Nicklaus were by no means always winners, the coach said with a view to his previously fruitless hunt for the Champions League triumph with Manchester City.
"They lose more than they win. This is sport," said Guardiola. In the semifinals against the title machine Real Madrid, the Cityzens coach doesn't want to have to explain another grandiose failure.
"If you want to win this competition, you have to beat Real Madrid," said Guardiola before the first leg at the defending champion on Tuesday (9 p.m. / Prime Video). Last year City had not succeeded. After an insane 4-3 at home, the English lost the second leg in Madrid 3-1 after extra time after conceding late goals. In Guardiola's seventh attempt to win the premier class with City, the record winner is again in the way.
There is no doubt that the handle pot for the city, which is supported with billions from Abu Dhabi, is above all, even if a triple beckons this season. In the Premier League, Guardiola's side are on course to retain the title and win their fifth championship in six years. In the FA Cup final, his team is the favorite against local rivals Manchester United. But the national trophies would only be consolation prizes if the triumph in the Champions League were to fail again.
Guardiola has already conquered this trophy twice. However, the memories of the final victories with FC Barcelona in 2009 and 2011 have faded somewhat. With FC Bayern, the Spaniard was eliminated three times in a row in the semi-finals, once with a crash against Real Madrid, who were also coached by Carlo Ancelotti at the time. Even then he had to endure the criticism that he had lost his chances for the title with overly cerebral tactical experiments. Guardiola made similar allegations in the lost 2021 final with City against Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea.
Erling Haaland in particular could ensure that things go differently this time. The super scorer with a record rate gives Manchester's football artists a brutally effective escalation that has often been missing in recent years. RB Leipzig had to experience this painfully in the round of 16 and FC Bayern in the quarter-finals, when the 22-year-old Norwegian scored seven goals in four games.
The fact that Haaland did not take a penalty as planned in the unadorned 2-1 win against Leeds United and selflessly gave the ball to Ilkay Gündogan made Guardiola very angry. "You have to do it. Erling, you have to shoot it," the coach shouted after Gündogan had just hit the post. Guardiola wants maximum success - and Haaland is his man for it.
Real without a defense chief
Ironically, in the first duel with Haaland and City, Real has to do without the suspended defense chief Eder Militão. It is not certain that Antonio Rüdiger will be in the starting eleven. Nacho could oust the German international. Toni Kroos, on the other hand, is still considered set. By winning the Copa del Rey, the 2014 World Champion has just completed his trophy collection with Real.
With the first cup win in nine years behind them, Ancelotti's team goes into the giant duel with a little less pressure. But at the Bernabéu Stadium everyone knows that the national cup alone would not be enough for the Real Madrid fans who are used to success at the end of the season. Arch-rivals FC Barcelona are practically certain of the championship. So the 15th Champions League title should come.
That's why nobody thought of a bigger party on Saturday evening after the 2-1 final win over Osasuna. "Rest" was the motto given by coach Ancelotti and club boss Florentino Pérez. "We don't want to stop winning. Now it's time to rest, we're facing the most important match of the season," said Rodrygo, who scored twice.