EPL

De Bruyne fully fit and Guardiola relaxed on Man City star's contract situation

By Sports Desk February 26, 2021

Kevin De Bruyne is fully fit despite not playing against Borussia Monchengladbach in midweek and there are no concerns over the fact he has not yet signed a contract extension, says Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola.

The Belgium playmaker returned from a hamstring injury sustained last month to start in last weekend's 1-0 win over Arsenal in the Premier League.

However, De Bruyne was an unused substitute as City earned a commanding 2-0 lead in the first leg of their last-16 Champions League tie against Gladbach.

Guardiola, though, insists there is nothing untoward about the fact he did not feature versus the Bundesliga side.

"He's fully fit. He was fully fit against Gladbach as well. I will not say anything different," Guardiola told a news conference previewing this weekend's clash against West Ham. 

"He is a key player for us. In the last part of the season, he will be so important."

City and De Bruyne are reported to have been in talks over a new contract for several weeks but as yet an agreement has not yet been reached.

However, with De Bruyne's deal running until June 2023, Guardiola is relaxed about the situation.

"I don't know why it's taking Kevin long to sign a new contract, but I'm not involved and he still has two or three years on his current contract," he added.

City have been on a phenomenal run of form, winning 19 straight games across all competitions following their latest success against Gladbach.

After that win, Guardiola was asked what has contributed to City's success to which he replied "we have a lot of money to buy a lot of incredible players" in what was seen as a dig at detractors who claim he and the team's success has been due to the club's financial muscle.

Guardiola said it was not a sarcastic comment, pointing to the spending power of other European heavyweights who have enjoyed periods of success.

The Catalan did, though, say the ability to spend is only part of the jigsaw.

"When you achieve what Manchester City achieves in four years, winning a lot of games it is because we have to have top players," he added.

"You can win one title with average players. To win a lot of titles, you need top players and top players cost money. That was my reflection. 

"It was not sarcastic, it was the truth. When Man United, Milan, Celtic, Rangers, Barcelona or Real Madrid win more titles, it is because they have more money than the other clubs. Every manager has his own way.

"We have this [spending] history behind us. It will always be with us. Not just one journalist, many. The only reason why we win is the money should be true. We accept that. Other clubs have a higher budget than us but we have to live with this.

"We have an incredibly strong organisation, backroom staff, work ethic in all departments is incredible - as it was at Barcelona and Bayern. It is not just me talking about myself. All the departments in the club are a machine.

"The last four seasons, we've won a lot of titles, you have to have top players. It is impossible to do it and sustain it. Top players cost, but when people say the only reason why you win is money you accept and try to do better. It comes for us."

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    Erling Haaland has not been impacted by the transfer rumours amid Borussia Dortmund's Champions League quarter-final with Manchester City, according to Edin Terzic, who also ruled Jadon Sancho out of Wednesday's second leg.

    Dortmund host City having lost 2-1 in Manchester last week and the omens are not bad for BVB, as in the Champions League the team that won the first leg 2-1 at home has been eliminated more often (15) than they have progressed (12).

    Terzic's side will also be confident that Haaland will not have such a quiet evening in front of goal again, as he only managed one shot in Manchester – it was a wonderful opportunity as well with an xG value of 0.4, meaning the average player would be expected to take it 40 per cent of the time.

    By Haaland's standards – he has nine open-play Champions League goals from an xG value of just 5.7 in 2020-21 – it was a brilliant chance to hammer home why he has received so much praise and attention this season, although he did manage the assist for Marco Reus' goal at the Etihad Stadium.

    Some of that attention has developed into incessant transfer speculation, with his agent Mino Raiola spending part of the recent international break talking to potential suitors.

    City, whom his dad Alf-Inge played for, have been suggested as being among those keen and Terzic is convinced all the chatter has not impacted him, despite Haaland being without a goal for club or country since March 20.

    "I didn't notice anything and it wasn't even an issue for us," Terzic said of the rumours during the international break.

    "He was very happy to come back from the national team. He was happy to see all the faces and they were happy to see him.

    "He did very well last time [against City]. He is known for making good runs from deep, but he also gave us a few seconds of possession. He often secured the ball well; he is a very important part of our team."

    Terzic – who is only in charge until the end of the season when Marco Rose will take over – was not about to get drawn into the debate around Haaland's future by putting a valuation on him, however.

    "As a coach, I have to get the best out of him, that's my job. It's not my job to put a price tag on him," he said. "I have to get the best out of the team and want to advance to the next round."

    Just as he missed the first leg, Sancho will also be unavailable against his former team on Wednesday – and he could yet be joined by others in missing out.

    "We have a few ailing players where we have to wait and see," Terzic added. "Mats Hummels and Marco Reus had to be replaced last time. It won't be enough [time] for Jadon, otherwise we'll have to see."

  • Guardiola trusts players to take 'next step' in Champions League: 'If not, I'd be crazy' Guardiola trusts players to take 'next step' in Champions League: 'If not, I'd be crazy'

    Pep Guardiola insists he trusts Manchester City to take the next step in the Champions League, adamant he would be "crazy" not to have that belief ahead of Wednesday's quarter-final second leg.

    City go to Borussia Dortmund with a 2-1 lead from last week's home leg, meaning the Germans will be quietly confident of pulling off an upset given they managed an away goal.

    While City have progressed from 13 of their 15 knockout ties in European competition when winning the first leg, in the Champions League the side that won the first leg 2-1 at home has been eliminated more often (15) than they have progressed (12).

    The tie is in the balance and Guardiola knows too well to take anything for granted given City have been eliminated at this stage of the competition in each of the previous three seasons.

    In 2019-20 they were dumped out at the hands of Lyon, a defeat that led to serious questions being asked of Guardiola and his management of such games, with some suggesting he overcomplicates life for himself.

    Ahead of the second leg, the focus was more on the players rather than the Catalan's preparations, and Guardiola was unequivocal when asked about trusting the team.

    "After 27 victories in 29 games, if I don't trust the players we have a big problem – I would be crazy," he said in his pre-game news conference on Tuesday.

    "Tomorrow we can win or lose. What we have done so far, we deserve to be where we are now. We know if we win we go through or lose we are out. In the Premier League we need three wins and a draw to be champions because we expect United to win seven in a row.

    "If we go out, we will be disappointed but we have another chance. Life is like this. If you fight you get another opportunity. We are going to try.

    "We lose against Lyon, we were better, but we were out. We are fighting for four competitions, especially the Premier League. We are already qualified for the Champions League, 11 years in a row, which has never happened before [for City]. That is fantastic.

    "Now is the time for another step, the players want it. They were sad when we didn't get to the semi-finals [in 2019-20] but nobody will give it to us, we have to do it.

    "Nobody gives you the semi-finals, we have to do it in 90 minutes if we don't do mistakes like against Lyon when we give them three goals. I'm so excited to travel to Germany, to try to do it."

    City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan struck a similar chord when he addressed the media prior to Guardiola, as the former Dortmund star suggested they gifted Lyon the 3-1 win in August.

    "For me it's important to take the next step, not just the experiences we had in the last few years, but also I have expectations of myself and team-mates and I know we have a great team and are capable of going into the semi-finals," he said. "We should have been there earlier in the last few seasons but we were lacking something, individual mistakes which led to goals - and it's tough.

    "I feel we are much more stable at the moment this season, especially defensively, the more you proceed in this competition the more important it gets. It gives you a safe feeling when you know your defence and goalkeeper are working very well. Combined with the feeling we know we're always able to score it's a great potential."

    While he accepts there has been progress, Gundogan feels they have to show that improvement extends to their character, having appeared emotionally fragile at times over the past few years.

    "I feel sometimes this is the case, we need to learn it's normal to struggle," he continued. "On that stage, playing against the best teams in Europe, it's normal, everyone has quality.

    "It's normal to concede a goal, we're not used to running behind a goal. Conceding or struggling, we're used to dominating games and having possession, but it's normal in Champions League and Premier League there are games it might not be that easy. Mistakes are normal.

    "Learning to deal with it is the only thing that was missing when we speak of those Tottenham games [in 2018-19]. Just dealing with those situations is something we might need to learn still, these stages will show it now. It's something we need to accept."

  • Klopp accepts empty Anfield is a 'problem' but challenges Liverpool to believe Klopp accepts empty Anfield is a 'problem' but challenges Liverpool to believe

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    The Reds lost 3-1 to Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie in the Spanish capital, leaving them with an arduous task to reach the last four.

    Liverpool have only progressed twice in the previous 13 European knockout ties in which they lost the first leg by at least two goals, the most recent example coming two years ago when they stunned Barcelona with a 4-0 win at Anfield after losing the first game 3-0.

    Anfield has become much less of a fortress this season while games have been played behind closed doors, with last weekend's 2-1 win over Aston Villa ending a six-game losing streak at home in the Premier League for the English champions.

    Klopp accepts it is a blow to play without the backing of the crowd but he hopes his players still believe in their chances.

    "When you're 3-1 down, it looks like you're already out," he said on Tuesday. "That means you have not a lot to lose, so we will give it a try. It's exactly how we'll go for it.

    "It's a result of the performances of the night: they were better than us and we were not as good as we could have been, or should have been. But it's the first leg.

    "It's just one extra problem: no supporters in the stadium. The result is a problem, the quality of the opponent is a problem, and obviously that the stadium is empty is a problem as well.

    "It's always about winning football games and that is the target. If that will end up in a comeback, I have no idea.

    "We have to be in a mood to start believing again and, if that happens and we can see that it's possible, then we have a chance, but it's still incredibly difficult."

    Real Madrid have scored in each of their previous 23 Champions League knockout matches and an away goal would put them in a commanding position to progress.

    While Klopp would love to keep a clean sheet, he is not certain any side can keep Madrid at bay if they are at their best.

    "The clean sheet is very important but that's not too different to other games – you never want to concede goals," he said.

    "I have no idea [if there is] anyone in the world who can deny Real Madrid having any chances.

    "They beat us and then they beat Barcelona in a very important game so they are obviously in a good moment. We have to be 100 per cent on our top level if we want to make it.

    "With the quality that Real Madrid has you have to defend on your absolutely highest level and that is what we didn't do in the first leg."

    Vinicius Junior produced arguably his best performance for Madrid in the first leg, scoring either side of Marco Asensio's goal to give Zinedine Zidane's side men the advantage.

    Klopp, who was not surprised by the Brazilian's display, wants his team to control the passing threat of Toni Kroos better in order to prevent a repeat.

    "He is an outstanding talent, everybody knew it before Real Madrid signed him [from Flamengo in 2018]," he said.

    "The one goal we could have defended but the other was just a great long ball and then a great first touch and finish.

    "We have to try to avoid the passes in his direction, which is a big task. [I was] impressed yes, surprised no."

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