Pep Guardiola has backed Manchester City’s young trio of Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling or Leroy Sane in the absence of Sergio Aguero when they face Liverpool in the Champions League quarter-final.
City will be without Aguero, their 30-goal leading scorer, for the fixture after he failed to recover from a knee injury sustained in training early last month, although Guardiola added that he was on the way to recovery. “He is much, much better. But the physios said he’s still not comfortable and he could not come here,” he said.
However, Guardiola believes that 21-year-old Jesus, the 22-year-old Sane and the 23-year-old Sterling, who has often wilted on his return to Anfield, can maintain the form that has helped taken City to the verge of the Premier League title amid the hostile atmosphere of Liverpool on a European night.
“We are so happy with those three guys. You need experience to be better, you need to live these situations and they are young. Gabriel never played in the Champions League quarter-finals and the first time is here.”
“Why should I doubt them when we’ve done it on many stages quite well? If it does not go well then it will be a good lesson for the future. I saw players with 32 years more scared than those three. It depends on the mentality of the players and they are so good.”
However, there as cause for concern as City suffered their only league defeat of the season at Liverpool in January when Jirgen Klopp’s pressing game forced several costly errors but Guardiola maintained his approach will not alter in the Champions League.
“Of course, I know Liverpool’s qualities and I’m concerned about what they can do,” the former FC Barcelona coach added. “I’m not so arrogant to presume I don’t care what they do. But if you think we are going to defend for 180 minutes and have one counterattack — that is not going to happen. Maybe if we defend for 90 minutes at Anfield it’s because Liverpool are unstoppable, but why should I change it when we are going well so far?
“I know the way we play is perfect for Liverpool because they attack the space like no other team in the world — especially Mane, Firmino, Salah. They are so good. I know that. We are going to try to do something and I feel the best way to try to win is the way we have been doing it since I’ve been here.”