Manchester City finally feel like they belong among Europe’s elite, says Pep Guardiola

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola shares a moment with striker Erling Haaland during their Champions League match against FC Copenhagen. Picture: Paul Ellis / AFP

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola shares a moment with striker Erling Haaland during their Champions League match against FC Copenhagen. Picture: Paul Ellis / AFP

Published Mar 7, 2024


Pep Guardiola said Manchester City have earned their place among the perennial contenders for Champions League glory after reaching the quarter-finals for a seventh consecutive season on Wednesday.

Guardiola could even afford the luxury of resting a host of star names in a 3-1 victory over FC Copenhagen at the Etihad that completed a 6-2 aggregate rout.

Goals from Manuel Akanji and Julian Alvarez killed the tie as a contest inside 10 minutes before Erling Haaland drilled in his 29th goal of the season.

Mohamed Elyounoussi briefly reduced the Danish champions' deficit to 2-1 on the night, but Copenhagen were outclassed over two legs as the European champions remain on course for another treble.

City conquered Europe for the first time in the club's history last season, but Guardiola acknowledged his side are now seen as favourites for the competition ahead of the likes of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.

The English champions have not lost a Champions League game at the Etihad since 2018 and became the first side in the competition's history to score three or more goals in nine consecutive home games.

"The important thing is being there (in the quarter-finals) seven years in a row, it's quite impressive," said Guardiola.

"We are well-respected from our opponents. The numbers are there - our consistency.

"I remember when I arrived, we didn't believe, the club didn't believe we could do it because we didn't have the hierarchy in Europe like teams in Spain or Germany. It was a question of time, a process.

"The problem is the managers in modern football don't have time. They gave me time, our hierarchy, so credit to them to accept the process. Now we are a team that believe we can do it."

Guardiola showed he had one eye on Sunday's top-of-the-table Premier League clash at Liverpool as he made seven changes from the side that beat Manchester United at the weekend.

Night off for key trio

Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva were among those to spend the 90 minutes on the bench to rest up ahead of the trip to Anfield.

But City were still a class apart and aided on their way into the last eight by some comical Copenhagen defending.

Akanji made a sweet connection with Alvarez's outswinging corner but was given far too much room in the centre of the box to find the top corner.

Worse was to come for the visitors as former Liverpool goalkeeper Kamil Grabara let a simple shot from Alvarez slip through his grasp.

The 2,500 strong visiting support from Copenhagen refused to be downhearted as they kept a flat atmosphere at the Etihad going, and they had something to cheer on the half-hour mark.

Former Southampton and Celtic winger Elyounoussi drove forward with purpose and exchanged a slick one-two with Orri Oskarsson before firing into the far corner.

Haaland had been having a quiet night until he sprang into action in first-half stoppage time.

The Norwegian was picked out by Rodri before chopping onto his favoured left foot and firing in at Grabara's near post.

That took Haaland's total to 41 Champions League goals, matching the tally of City's all-time leading goalscorer Sergio Aguero, but in just 37 appearances for three different clubs.

City took their foot off the gas in the second period and could have been punished but for some smart goalkeeping from Ederson to deny Magnus Mattsson.

But Guardiola's men are rounding ominously into form for those trying to dethrone them in England and in Europe.

City have won 18 and drawn two of their last 20 games in all competitions and remain the side to beat when the draw for the Champions League quarters and semi-finals takes place on March 15.