Guardiola: ‘Inter v Milan doesn’t surprise, Italian football is in good health’


Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola says he’s not surprised that Milan and Inter are facing off in a Champions League semi-final: ‘Italian football is in good health.’ The former Brescia and Roma midfielder spoke at length with La Gazzetta dello Sport about this years competition, touching on Milan’s win against Napoli, City’s own struggles against Bayern Munich in the second-leg, and why his team are ‘exhausted’, despite having the opportunity to win a historic treble:

Let’s start then with the other semifinal, the Milan derby. Did you expect it or are you surprised to see Inter and Milan again at the top of Europe?

“I saw Tuesday night’s match in Naples and the Azzurri impressed me. Those games against Milan have always been very close matches this year. You win or lose by such narrow margins that then make the difference. Should it now be said that Napoli is a bad team because they are out of the Champions League? No, because I saw them and was impressed with the way they played. Napoli will win the Scudetto. And we will see next year what they do again in the Champions League.”

Honor to the defeated, first of all then. But then spotlight on the Milan derby.

“Napoli is so far ahead in the league compared to Milan, and people think it’s the same in the Champions League. But instead Milan in Europe changes the chip. It’s a club like Bayern Munich that I just met and I know well, in the past they were great, I don’t know how many cups they won. I remember Arrigo Sacchi, Fabio Capello, Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Costacurta … In short, they are history … And it matters. That’s why these teams are so strong.”

But how did “this” Milan do it?

“Milan in Naples also played well, won in the league, won in Europe in the first leg 1-0, then the 1-1 the other night with a penalty for Napoli that could have been given. I repeat, it was a very hard-fought match.”

You also suffered in the return leg in Munich.

“Yes, even for us against Bayern it was a very hard-fought challenge, it was won by a very narrow margin of difference, even though the double-header ended 4-1 for us. If Sané and Coman had scored right away in the first half, with this stadium pushing their players … I don’t think we are superior to Bayern. I am always impressed by them when we face them. But this time we defended well, we were tough. I was more satisfied with the second half, it was more under our control. However, thanks in the first place to our fans who followed us in large numbers and congratulations really to Bayern.”

You’re at 99 Champions League wins in 158 matches. Only Sir Alex Ferguson and Carlo Ancelotti have done better, surpassing 100 wins. Now against Real Madrid you will have a chance to make up for last year’s elimination in the semifinals in extra time.

“Yes, football is strange, last year we could have won 2-0 at the Bernabeu, in the return leg of the semifinal, with that save by Mendy on Grealish’s shot on the goal line near the end of the match and instead we then lost in extra time to Real. For us it will be the third semifinal in three years in a row, and it seems unbelievable to us, for Madrid it is eleven in the last 20 years only, hats off to them! All the clubs in Europe have the feeling and know that if you want to win this competition you have to beat Real Madrid, it used to be the same with Barcelona but now it is with Madrid.”

Your protégé Erling Haaland scored as well in Munich even though he missed a penalty after 16 scored in a row in 2 years. He is now at 48 goals in 41 matches, top scorer in the Premier League with 32 goals and also in the Champions League with 12. He has been scoring for 7 games in a row. He sometimes seems to disappear from the game, though….

“But when he’s needed he’s always there. A threat. Let’s talk about a young man — how old is he, 21-22? He has his future ahead of him. Yes, he will learn how to do it. He is an ‘incredible machine,’ an incredible goal machine. He loves to feel pressure on him. However, he showed personality, he wanted to win and score the penalty, but he will learn in the future. He will be more sure and confident after this mistake. Erling’s finish was really, really good. He is so young. The experience we have in this competition, the players feel it a lot,  they want to finish the Champions League really well.”

Finishing it well just means winning it. Bernardo Silva also said: “We will definitely try, we always try, but we feel that the team is very, very confident.”

“Yes, but in today’s football there is no time to rest. Arsenal in the Premier League has been running since September, then there is the Champions League which gives no respite, on Saturday we have the FA Cup semifinal against Sheffield United and I don’t know how we will get there….”

The chance to win a historic Treble, the trio of titles for Manchester City, is getting closer, though.

“We are really exhausted. I don’t know how we will recover. Now is a difficult time.”


Serie A obsessive.