Manchester City face a Champions League semi-final showdown against PSG, starting with a first-leg tie on Wednesday, and Pep Guardiola has spoken of the ‘sleepless nights’ he’s faced thinking about Neymar and Co.
Drafted in to achieve European success at the Etihad, Guardiola has been domestically all-conquering, but now he faces arguably his toughest challenge as City boss, taking on last season’s Champions League runners-up for a place in the final this time around.
The Catalan coach boasts his own world-class attacking armoury, but in his pre-PSG presser he has spoken in awe of the talent at Mauricio Pochettino’s disposal, particularly Parisian poster boy Kylian Mbappe and Brazilian superstar Neymar.
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Guardiola is right to be cautious of the latter, who has a formidable record again English opposition in European football; having a direct hand in nine goals across his 12 matches against sides on these shores in the Champions League (five goals, four assists).
That record includes a goal against City during Guardiola’s maiden campaign in the dugout, in which Luis Enrique’s men humbled the Premier League side 4-0 at the Camp Nou in October 2016, with Lionel Messi famously netting a hat-trick in the Group C encounter.
Perhaps more worryingly for Guardiola, though, is that Neymar is a man for the occasion, either scoring (three) or assisting (one) in each of his previous three Champions League semi-final appearances, including setting up Angel Di Maria in PSG’s 3-0 penultimate-stage win over RB Leipzig last season.
And ahead of the contest, Guardiola was giving his thoughts on the illustrious frontline his side are about to face, with such an ominous proposition for his defenders causing a bout of insomnia on his part, he jokingly remarked.
“I tried to sleep well last night and I slept when I was not thinking about their players like that (Mbappe and Neymar)!” Guardiola said.
“We will try and stop them by defending as a team and playing well as a team. We will have to adjust something of course, but at the same time, it wouldn’t make any sense to not to be who we are.
“It is normal to adjust, like we will against [Wilfried] Zaha against Crystal Palace. We are going to concede counter-attacks, they have a lot of weapons.”
‘Barca would have won two or three more Champions Leagues if Neymar stayed’
Neymar, who joined Barca a season after Guardiola left the club, made up a formidable third of the Blaugrana‘s esteemed ‘MSN’ trident, forming a world-class frontline with Messi and Luis Suarez, which culminated in Enrique’s side sealing a treble in 2014/15, including the Champions League.
However, Neymar would send shockwaves across the football market after sealing a world record move to PSG in 2017, and neither club have won the Champions League since, something Guardiola believes would not have been the case if the Brazilian stuck around in Catalonia.
“I remember watching clips of Neymar and thinking this is the king of Santos [Neymar’s first club in Brazil],” Guardiola said.
“The players had their mouths open. If Neymar had stayed at Barcelona, they would have won two or three Champions League [trophies] more.
“Him, Messi and Suarez were the best up front. He makes football a pleasure.”