Lyon, France | AFP | Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said the Champions League poses a tougher challenge than any other competition after his side salvaged a 2-2 draw at Lyon on Tuesday to qualify for the knockout phase.
The Premier League leaders clinched a place in the last 16 for the sixth season in a row as headers from Aymeric Laporte and Sergio Aguero helped City twice recover after falling behind to goals from Maxwel Cornet.
City need a point from their final game at home to eliminated Hoffenheim to secure top spot in Group F, although they were fortunate to avoid a second defeat by Lyon — the only team to score more than once against them this season.
“Today the Champions League showed me again that it’s another different competition and especially for one reason. The players are better,” said Guardiola.
“That’s why every time we think about the Champions League and people say it’s easy for Manchester City, they are really confused about this.
“Words are words. The people who say this never saw a game of Lyon, a game of Hoffenheim, or a game of Shakhtar.”
City set a Premier League record with 100 points as they strolled to the title last term, and are again setting the pace this season having scored 40 times in 13 matches while conceding on just five occasions.
“You have time in the Premier League, you have 38 games. Here you have 90 minutes, 180 minutes — you make mistakes and they punish you,” said Guardiola.
Lyon already trail Paris Saint-Germain by 15 points in Ligue 1 after just 14 matches, but Bruno Genesio’s side once again pushed City all the way having beaten them 2-1 in the reverse fixture in September.
“People say in France it’s just PSG. But they don’t know how tough it is in France. The league is so complicated, so good, so that’s why I give a lot of credit for the result and the performance today,” said Guardiola.
“I’m really impressed about the amount of good young talent here in France. Both (Lyon) holding midfielders (Houssem Aouar and Tanguy Ndombele) are exceptional.
“They’re strong and they have vision. The people in front — (Memphis) Depay, (Nabil) Fekir…it’s a team that’s well organised but that’s typical in the Champions League.”
“Now we can focus on the Premier League and other competitions and try to arrive in February with everyone fit and try to compete against the best 16 teams in Europe,” he added.
– ‘Proud’ Genesio –
Lyon need to avoid defeat at Shakhtar Donetsk in their final game to join City in the last 16 after the Ukrainians scored a stoppage-time winner to earn a 3-2 victory at Hoffenheim and keep their qualification hopes alive.
“I’m proud to see how my team performed tonight. They’re one of the best teams in Europe,” said Genesio. “But there’s also a bit of frustration that we didn’t qualify tonight. There wasn’t much in it, here or in Hoffenheim.”
Lyon looked on course for another impressive win over City when Cornet scored his second goal to put Lyon 2-1 up with nine minutes to play, only for Aguero to level just two minutes later.
“The players put in a display of very high quality. When we conceded the second goal I think we were still a bit euphoric and that’s what allowed them to score,” admitted Genesio.
His team will conclude their group stage against Shakhtar on December 12 in Kharkiv.
“I see it as a final for qualification, but we go into it full of confidence because we’re still unbeaten despite a lot of draws.”