Manchester City have to shrug off the body blow of letting a two-goal lead and the chance to win the Premier League title against bitter rivals Manchester United slip to raise themselves for a Champions League rescue mission against Liverpool on Tuesday.
Victory against United would have seen City crowned champions of England for the fifth time, and they looked well on course to do so in the sweetest style in Saturday’s Manchester derby as captain Vincent Kompany and Ilkay Gundogan propelled them into a richly deserved two-goal half-time lead.
However, City’s chances of landing a first ever Champions League crown were likely dealt a fatal blow when they conceded three times in 19 minutes first-half minutes to a rampant Liverpool at Anfield in the first leg last week.
And they were even more porous as United fought back to turn the game around in a 16-minute spell just after half-time as a Paul Pogba double and Chris Smalling’s winner handed United a famous win.
“Contratulations to United. Now we will try, if we are brave enough, to stand up again and focus on Tuesday,” said City manager Pep Guardiola.
With City still boasting a 13-point lead at the top of the Premier League despite their first home league defeat of the season, Guardiola showed his priorities lay with the Champions League before kick-off.
Kevin De Bruyne, City’s leading candidate for player of the year awards, was left on the bench alongside strikers Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero.
However, even their firepower will count for nothing if City defend as they have in losing back-to-back games for the first time this season.
And Guardiola admitted the way his side are built to play on the front foot could leave them exposed to an away goal that will almost certainly seal Liverpool’s place in the last four.
“Today United didn’t shot one time in the first half. Second half they arrive twice and score two goals.
“It is tough sometimes mentally. We are a young team and a team to create sometimes, not to defend.”
In a recurring theme of his near two-year reign in charge of City, Guardiola also lamented his side’s inability to take their chances at the other end as Raheem Sterling missed two glorious opportunities to extend City’s lead with the score at 2-0.
However, inspired by Barcelona’s remarkable comeback from a 4-0 first-leg deficit to Paris Saint-Gemrain, Guardiola — a Champions League winner as both a player and a coach at Barcelona — insisted that a remarkable comeback is possible if City are clinical on the night.
“In football anything can happen. It is the first time we lose two games in a row, first time in the season it has happened and now we have to recover, try again, come back to basics and win games,” added Guardiola.
“I tell them we are going to try guys. I was a football player, I know how they feel and how uncomfortable a situation it is. Like all the season I like to be with them and nothing else.”