Pep Guardiola says Manchester City are not yet ready to compete with Europe’s elite but his side will be confident of opening their Champions League campaign with victory over Borussia Monchengladbach on Tuesday.
The Spaniard could hardly have started his City reign more impressively with four consecutive Premier League wins and a crushing Champions League playoff defeat of Steaua Bucharest.
But Guardiola, twice a Champions League winner as coach of Barcelona, has quickly moved to dampen expectations.
“Until now, in the Premier League it has been okay – but to compete against the best clubs in Europe, in this moment with the way we are playing, we are not able to,” Guardiola said.
The comment was all the more surprising as it came after Saturday’s impressive 2-1 victory at Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United.
Even without top striker Sergio Aguero, who was suspended but will be available on Tuesday, City oozed confidence.
The same cannot be said of Monchengladbach, who City beat twice in the group phase last season before going on to reach the semi-finals for the first time.
The Bundesliga side were beaten 3-1 at SC Freiburg over the weekend, interrupting what had been a bright start to the season for Andre Schubert’s men.
Fourth in the Bundesliga last season, Monchengladbach had crushed Young Boys 9-2 on aggregate in the Champions League playoffs and opened their domestic campaign with a 2-1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen.
Brazilian midfielder Raffael, however, said Saturday’s defeat would not impact on their trip to the Etihad.
“I’m not anxious about the meeting with Man City, as it will be a completely different game. We aren’t afraid of any team,” he told the club’s website.
City represent a huge challenge though, especially given Guardiola’s pedigree in the competition.
He has never failed to reach at least the semi-finals in seven previous seasons coaching in the competition and, whatever he says about City’s readiness, he will surely be disappointed if his new club are not still alive in May.
Saturday’s win at Old Trafford meant Guardiola became the first City manager to win his first six games in charge and there are positive signs that his tried and tested methods are already being taken on board by his squad.
Barcelona meanwhile are eyeing their Champions League opener against Celtic on Tuesday as a chance to make amends for their shock 2-1 defeat at home to La Liga newcomers Alaves on Saturday.
With many of his players in action with their international sides in midweek, coach Luis Enrique rotated his squad, resting regulars Luis Suarez, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Sergi Roberto, Jordi Alba and talisman Lionel Messi.
The decision backfired and Alaves, playing in the top flight for the first time in a decade, made the most of their few chances, frustrating the champions even after Suarez, Messi and Iniesta came on.
Ibai Gomez’s 64th minute strike won the game for the Basques after Jeremy Mathieu had cancelled out Deyverson’s surprise opener.
“We made a lot of changes so the freshest players could play but we were fragile in defence and we have to look at that,” said Enrique.
“Conceding the second goal after an error of ours was a big blow for the players but on Tuesday we’re playing the Champions League and that’s another story. In that competition you pay dearly for your errors.”
Enrique is expected to field his first choice 11 against Celtic, so Suarez will meet up with his former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers.
Rodgers presided over the Uruguayan’s best two seasons in England, compelling Barcelona to pay the Merseyside club 81 million euros for him in 2014.
Celtic head to Spain on a high after thrashing Glasgow rivals Rangers 5-1 on Saturday in the first league Old Firm derby in over four years to stay top of the Scottish Premiership.
Rodgers is still without lead striker Leigh Griffiths through a hamstring injury but new signing Moussa Dembele proved more than an able replacement against Rangers, scoring his first professional hat-trick.
Celtic were beaten 6-1 on their last visit to the Camp Nou in December 2013.
Arsenal are also in action on Tuesday and long-serving manager Arsene Wenger will feel at home when he takes his team to the Parc des Princes for the clash against Paris St Germain.
A regular visitor to the French capital, the Strasbourg-born Wenger has often been linked in the past with an executive role at PSG when he finally leaves Arsenal, the club he joined in 1996.
Since then the London side have qualified for the Champions League in every full season of his management.
For the last 16 years in succession they have reached the second stage of the competition, only to suffer the frustration of defeat in the first knockout round for six seasons in a row.
Along with PSG, they must be regarded as favourites to qualify again from a group also including Basel and Bulgarian side Ludogorets.
Arsenal, who have a good record on recent visits to France, have recovered from taking a single point from their opening two Premier League games, winning the next two to reach sixth place in the table.