How are you feeling after that? For an hour you matched them and arguably created better chances.
Yeah. I’m obviously pleased with that hour, I can’t fault the players really at all in terms of their commitment, in terms of their tactical discipline. I think the team was well set up to try and make certain they didn’t get through us because that’s what they’re so good at doing – drawing you out and getting into those gaps that you leave behind. I thought we did very well at plugging those gaps and making sure that they did stay in front of us and didn’t actually create many chances. But it’s the first goal unfortunately that decides games. None more so than when you’re playing against Manchester City. Because when they get that goal they’ve been quite comfortable in possession anyway, they’ve been digging at your attacks and then all of a sudden you now have to make certain that you come out even more, open yourself up to get back into the game. But we didn’t give ourselves a chance to do that. Because the second goal really was disastrous for us. To come from our own kick off – I mean that really was suicidal. But up until that first goal, which was a very fine goal from Aguero, I thought we did pretty well. But that was the goal that was probably going to be the one which wins them the game. We compounded by conceding immediately a second. So what was now going to be an unbelievably difficult task became by our standards an impossible one.
It looked like it would take something special to beat you – unfortunately for you Sergio Aguero provided that.
Yeah, it was a fantastic goal, I’ve got to say. At the time from the touchline I didn’t quite realise how good it was. I was even asking questions – we’d worked so hard, our two central defenders to stay very close and get very tight and offer space on the wings. But centrally we want to stay very compact and I was a bit concerned that they’d stretched us there more than we’d wanted to be stretched. But seeing the goal back, that wasn’t the case at all, really. It was the pace of the pass across the edge of the 18-yard-box, Aguero’s touch and finish that, to be fair, I don’t know quite what we could have done defensively to have prevented that.
Manchester City are almost champions. Is their work rate almost as impressive as the quality they have on the pitch?
Absolutely, and in fact it’s interesting you should mention because it’s one of the things we talked about in our team talk to the players, apart from talking about what we thought we needed to do tactically and organisationally. We raised that very point. Unfortunately, despite the fact that they have a wealth of talent technically and players who understand the game very well and they’re obviously very well organised both offensively and defensively. The problem is they’re also very hard to out-do physically. It’s very difficult to run harder, to run faster, quicker, do more things in that area than they do. That’s very much a part of their armoury. And it’s part of their armoury that you’ve picked up on, I congratulate you on picking up on that. Because I think sometimes the level of technical ability and the very, very nice football they play and patterns they weave, people forget that this is also a massive part of their armoury and it’s one that’s very hard to deal with.
Where does this Manchester City side compare among the great teams?
They’ve very difficult to play against. I think it’s dangerous to compare going back into the past and how do they compare against the great Ajax teams, the great Benfica teams and the great Liverpool teams. These teams were great at their moment in time and they played very good football at that moment in time. But I’ve got to say that more and more when I see Man City play as they did against a very strong Paris Saint-Germain team last week in the Champions League semi-final, you do look at that game and think this is a team which has got so very, very few weaknesses if any, and unbelievably many strengths. So if we’re talking about today’s football, and football over the last two or three years, I don’t think we’re going to see a better team than them. But football’s football, and unfortunately they’re going to play very many games and going to lose by the odd goal and people will start pulling them apart because, as I’ve said on so many occasions: the result will actually be the one which often decides people’s judgement on the team’s performance. But watching them as closely as I have done these last four years in the league and seeing the way Pep has worked with his team, I’ve got to say that I don’t think I’ve ever come across teams that good. If you did really twist my arm and say ‘give me one team who might have given this team a good game’, I might have said the Ajax team of Johann Cruyff in 1987 with the Van Bastens and the Bergkamps and these games. I’ve often said in the past that that was the toughest encounter I’ve faced. In future I might have to change my mind and put Man City up there instead.
I thought you were going to say the Ajax team of the mid 70s?
Well that was a wonderful team as well, but I didn’t actually come across them, I didn’t have the misfortune of being on the sidelines trying to watch my team deal with them. But I did have the misfortune of sitting on the sideline with Malmo dealing with Ajax.
Wilfried Zaha looked to have a problem – was that something he developed in the warm up, or during the first half?
It was the warm up, apparently. He was striking a ball at goal and he felt maybe something had happened in his groin but was adamant that it was OK and he was adamant that he was going to be able to play through it. I thought there were moments in the game where he did sort of show signs of being concerned about it, it might have affected his concentration from time to time. But having said that, I can’t point to anything in particular where he didn’t do his job or didn’t do the work he should be doing, so he’s got through it very well. What could we do? The medical people obviously couldn’t find anything in that few minutes before going out on the field so we were reliant on Wilf’s assessment himself of how bad the situation was and how well he could cope with it.
As a football fan as well as a manager, would you like to see Sergio Aguero stay in the Premier League [when he leaves Manchester City]?
No I don’t know if I’d like to see him play for another club. When you’ve been such an incredible servant for the club as he has been, and you’ve reached the legendary status that he has reached, that would put him in the same sort of category as a Gerrard, a Lampard – these type of players, really. Wayne [Rooney] only went to play for Derby as a player/coach. I’d like to put him in that category where they get associated with one club. I think there’s going to be loads and loads of takers for Sergio Aguero, but I think it would be a pity in some ways if he decides to leave Man City to go to another club in the Premier League because he really should treasure the status that he’s built up at Man City. Not only with his goalscoring but also with his record of appearances.