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Guardiola: February is key to European success

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola admits he would have preferred to top Group C in this season’s Champions League – but says the key to success in Europe's premier competition is being in peak form once the last-16 stage begins.

City are guaranteed to finish second no matter what the result of their final group game against Celtic on Tuesday, meaning they will have to face one of the other group winners in the knock-out phase.

Although Guardiola’s preference is always to finish top, he says his focus is on making sure his side are in the best form possible when February arrives. 

I prefer to finish first,” he said. “I don’t know why but I prefer to. More for the club because you won more games.

“But from my experience in the Champions League, it is how you arrive, how you be, in February.

“Now Monday is going to be the draw and we will analyse the team and say who is the favourite to go to the next round. But in February many things are going to happen before.

“Many teams are not there [in the knock-out stage]. That is why I am so happy to be there, to prepare the game.

“I have to focus on Leicester and Watford and Arsenal. What I have to think about as a coach is the way we play.”

City lost on Saturday at home to Chelsea, a result that leaves them fourth in the table, four points adrift of the league leaders.

Having been in control of the game for the opening hour, Guardiola admits the result was a huge disappointment, but he feels there was much to admire about City’s performance against a side he feels is one of the best in Europe.

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"Of course I would have preferred to have won against Chelsea and we would be top of the league,” he said. “Then our analysis would be completely different. But I'm confident because we play 60, 65 minutes good. We need to continue, continue, continue and when we do, we'll be there.

"When our game is up and down, like Crystal Palace and Burnley when sometimes you win when you don't play good or don't deserve it. But now I'm happy and half-an-hour later, one hour when I am home after the Chelsea game, I think to myself 'this season is going to be good'.

"We lost against Chelsea, but we have to keep going and play the way we can play, create chances and concede few. We conceded in the last minutes because we didn't control the game, we played more with the heart.

"We analyse the last minutes and the result and they won, congratulations, but the way we played was quite well. That's why I'm satisfied. Much better than the last two games away where we won and nobody said anything.

"In this kind of games against big teams you have to be lucky, in the sense you score goals and you don't concede. We were unlucky. That's why you have to improve and mentally be stronger in the moments when we don't score a goal or concede, like we did in the first half, keep going, keep going. It's a long road and today does not finish our season.

"We are going to improve on that."

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