Pep Guardiola has warned his Manchester City players that they cannot rely on Erling Haaland alone to make the difference as the club start their latest quest for Champions League glory at Sevilla on Tuesday night.
“If it all rests on his shoulders, if we rely only on him, we won’t win,” the manager warned his squad on the eve of another go at the competition that still eludes City. “I know, I know,” Guardiola said, head nodding, eyes rolling as the inevitable question came about the failure to land Europe’s most coveted trophy.
“I know, I know. It’s the Champions League,” he said. “They ask every year, every year they say we are favourites, and we never prove them right. Are we going to win, are we not going to win? I don’t know.”
He was keen not to make it all about the Norwegian striker, even as he admitted that he is a “special talent” who could be the difference on the Champions League’s biggest nights. “We will not win just because of Erling. I understand completely that everyone talks about Erling and hopefully he can help.”
The Premier League, where the midfielder Rodri Hernandez said City are “leaving a legacy” is one thing; this is something else. It can feel like everything.
Guardiola added: “We depend on what happens on the pitch. If it’s good and we do [win], we will deserve it; if not, we will go home and we will get punishment from fans, from the media, and we will keep going.
“In football you will lose more than you win but sport always gives you another opportunity. We will try to enjoy it; we know how hard it is. Personally, I always put my expectations very low. Just being here is great. What happens, then? It depends.
“If people see us as the main favourites, what can I say? Fine, OK. We’re favourites, then. If you think about favourites, it has to be Real Madrid because they always win it, history says that.
“Liverpool, Bayern, Barcelona. All the English teams will be there. PSG. But ‘City have to win it’. There are others that have their chances too. Spanish teams are so tough and have dominated Europe like no other country. At City, I would love to have the history Sevilla have. And this stadium is magnificent – don’t miss the chance to see how spectacular it is here.”
Guardiola will be without John Stones and Kyle Walker. Walker was forced off in the latter stages of Saturday’s Premier League draw at Aston Villa while Stones has also picked up a knock. The deadline day signing Manuel Akanji could come in for his City debut. Kalvin Phillips has travelled to Spain after a spell out with a shoulder injury and could also feature.
Halaand will certainly play. The last time he was here, with Dortmund 18 months ago, he tore Sevilla apart. Asked if he was the kind of player, like Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, who could take City to another level, Guardiola replied: “Listen, all the players who came this season came to try to make us better, otherwise it makes no sense. Will that help us win the title? I don’t know, I always have belief. But if it all rests on his shoulders, we won’t win. We will try to help him do well, and hopefully he can do it.
“With players from the north of Europe, I always think their mum and dad raised them very well. He’s a fantastic player and has adapted very well, very quickly. We convinced him to come here. I understand completely that everyone talks about Erling but I have three, four, five new players.”
That group includes Julián Álvarez. “We’re all very, very surprised by his level,” Guardiola said. “Everyone talks about Halaand but [in Álvarez] City has signed a player for many years with an extraordinary level.
“But he has a special talent and maybe in the important games, yeah definitely [he can make the difference], but if we don’t play good we won’t win the games.”