Guardiola insists Man City legacy already secure ahead of Real Madrid semi final
If there are pockets of self doubt lurking in minds in Manchester City’s dressing room ahead of their blockbuster second leg against Real Madrid it would be no surprise. Good luck and the Champions League have not often travelled together for the Premier League’s leading side.
As Pep Guardiola pointed out, he has lost more semi-finals than he has won. Yet if they were looking for a totem prior to kick off, a beacon to lend hope this could be their time, they need look no further than Kyle Walker, their still quicksilver full-back who will be tasked with shackling Real’s greatest threat Vinicius Junior.
Walker did an impressive blocking job on the Brazilian but it is nothing compared to the blocking job he has done on the self doubt which he admits crept in after he was dropped and questioned by Guardiola earlier this season.
Walker started just three games in two months between February and April. That was after Guardiola publicly suggested he did not have the ‘educated movements’ to play in the floating full-back midfield role he has favoured this season.
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“Did it hurt? Of course it did,” said Walker of the public critique. “I can’t sit here and lie to you and say it didn’t. Of course it did. You do start to doubt yourself but you have to go back to basics to what you are good at, what he bought you for and prove him wrong and that is what I have done.”
Walker’s battle with Vinicius is just one of many that City will have to win around a star-studded pitch in what promises to be a game for the ages tomorrow night. At the end of the first leg the two embraced. Walker insists it was after Vinicius tried to ‘rainbow flick’ him.
He explained: “It was kind of like ‘please don’t try that again’ – I don’t want to be a meme! Boxers fight, have a good battle, and then they shake hands after, and that is the level of respect I have for him. Before then it is dog eat dog.”
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Walker, now 32 but still quick – he proudly states he was told he hit 37.5 kilometres per hour on the speed gun last week – insists it is not about individuals but a collective belief their City’s time has finally come.
City have consistently rattled the woodwork in Europe under Guardiola with quarter final losses to Liverpool, Spurs and Lyon, a final defeat to Chelsea in 2021 and last year’s impossibly dramatic 6-5 aggregate defeat to Real. Yet if the evidence of the first leg is to be believed, City no longer believe this competition is destined to remain out of reach.
“This group of players have been together for a number of years, where we have been able to overcome situations, where we have been in winning positions, losing positions,” said Walker.
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“We have had rough and good moments but hopefully we can go and put our name in the history books for this club and put this club on the Champions League trophy.
“With this group of lads, nothing is over. That’s just what these players do. They are born winners. They are top, world-class players. They seem to do it at the business end of the season.”
City should listen to their full-back before kick-off – a man who might reasonably have thought his time was up but now believes their time has come.
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