Pep Guardiola was giving very little ahead of Manchester City’s mammoth clash in the Champions League with Real Madrid.
The City coach has been pretty relaxed in recent weeks despite a steady streak of big games, each threatening to damage City’s European and Premier League challenges.
But returning to the Spanish capital for the second time in four weeks, Guardiola must be almost as careful with his approach off the field as he is on it.
Asked about Luka Modric’s comments that if Madrid plays his best game, he will progress, Guardiola immediately replied: “This is normal. We think so too.”
About whether it was a good time to play on the side of Carlo Ancelotti after celebrating winning the Spanish title over the weekendhe replied: “The league is completely separate from the Champions League. I have no opinion on that.”
And after a series of confusing and mischievous questions about the City awarding the Madrid Honor Guard after they won La Liga, Guardiola said: “As a spokesman for this club, which I am, congratulations to them, but this is the champion [League]. ”
If City’s defense is impenetrable for a rematch at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday as is his pre-match response, then Guardiola will be more than happy.
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He has enough for himself, and above all he is trying to win the European Cup for the first time in the City, without being disturbed by controversies off the field.
There is a complicated issue of juggling a challenge in the Premier League and Champions League as injuries start to hit his team, while he also devises a tactical plan to beat Madrid and stop Karim Benzema’s threat, as well as silence the Bernabeu crowd roaring at the Los Blancos until victory over Paris Saint- Germain and Chelsea in previous cars.
As Guardiola describes it, there is “more noise” around the big games in Spain compared to the relative calm the team is experiencing in the Premier League, and he wants to do his best to silence the sound.
The further City goes to Europe each season, the greater the chances of traveling to Madrid and the increasing control of the former Barcelona coach that comes with it.
This time fate brought a second consecutive visit to the Spanish capital.
From television shows to provocative sports reports, interest in football from Guardiola’s homeland can be distracting, but also deafening.
It is far from the safe environment of the Etihad campus, where he and his coaches are isolated and can do their job knowing that photographers and cameras are tightly locked.
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On the eve of the first game, Guardiola managed to keep John Stones away from his team’s training that was open to the media, before taking out a defender when reporters were all gone.
He can even take a short bike ride through downtown Manchester to the gym without being disturbed by onlookers.
This is a stark contrast to his time at Camp Nou, where stress and job pressure forced him to leave the club he cheered for as a boy and set aside a year from the game to recover.
And that’s another reason why he’s unlikely to return to Spain as a coach, which is why it’s not inconceivable that his stay at the Etihad Stadium could go beyond the summer of 2023, when his current contract expires.
In the quarter-final against Atletico Madrid, Guardiola did his best to avoid anything that could be considered controversial, despite the clear clash of cultures between the two clubs.
He spoke of Atletico’s qualities – after an ultra-defensive performance at the Etihad where the Rojiblancos failed to score a single shot or hit the target – but he picked up one slip and used it as a lightning rod for criticism.
“In prehistory, today and for 100,000 years, attacking 5-5-0 is very difficult,” he said after winning the first game. “Yes, there is no space. Apart from being very competitive and defending very well, there is no place.”
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The use of the word ‘prehistory’ has caused insult, and Atletico captain Koke responded with a message on Instagram saying, “I’m in love with your prehistoric story. I’m proud to be from Atletico.”
After a bad-tempered and tense rematch in which the Spanish side threatened, Diego Simeone was clearly irritated.
“Often those who have great vocabulary are very intelligent and manage to treat you with contempt,” the Argentine said. “But those of us who may have less vocabulary aren’t that stupid.”
It was a frustrating side show from what was an enchanting rematch, as City used its growing amount of European experience to survive the embarrassing conflict at Wanda Metropolitano.
Even for the Athletes and Simeone, it was unfortunate that their great efforts remained invaluable, as criticism from the Spanish media quickly focused on the City boss and his tactics.
Guardiola is certainly not beyond criticism in Cit, but in England his analyzes are far less toxic and fans less demanding.
And it is for these reasons that he will hardly ever make it to Spain again.