Pep Guardiola says Manchester City are still not among the favourites to win the Champions League despite their eye-catching form in domestic and European competition.
The Premier League leaders face Feyenoord on Tuesday unbeaten in 18 games in all competitions and with an increasing number of observers tipping them to challenge for Europe’s biggest prize, which they have never won.
Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri and Leicester City’s Claude Puel are the latest respected judges to name City as the best team in Europe.
But City manager Guardiola is continuing to play down the expectations around his side, who have already qualified for the Champions League’s last 16.
“I say thank you very much to both of them,” said Guardiola of the praise from his fellow managers. “For Manchester City, a team that still needs a history in Europe, it is a big win.
“That doesn’t mean we are favourites to win the Champions League, but it’s nice. It means we are doing some things very well.
“But obviously people usually say the favourite teams are FC Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and others.
“That people put us there is a big honour. That does not mean we have done anything because we haven’t.”
Guardiola has lost England defender John Stones for up to six weeks and captain Vincent Kompany, another centre-back, is still edging his way back from injury.
With 13 games to play from Tuesday until their trip to Watford on January 2, Guardiola believes the coming period will be his squad’s biggest test of the season.
“We don’t have a big squad,” he said. “It is a big pity we lost a month-and-a-half of Vincent Kompany and now John Stones.
“To win the titles we need all the squad, especially important players like John and Vinny.
“On the other side, we have an opportunity. We have to play 12 games in a short space of time (until the end of 2017) with only three central defenders and one of them is a risk in Vincent only just back.”
– Foden knocking on door –
Guardiola, whose side are eight points clear of nearest challengers Manchester United in the Premier League, said he wanted to assess how players would react and how adaptable they were.
“Always when you are champions, you have to handle the big situations, the tough situations,” he said. “When everyone is ready and comfortable, that is not when you get credit.
“We are going to see how we react in the most important moment of the season.”
The congested fixture list could see Guardiola turn to youth, with England Under-17s star midfielder Phil Foden tipped for first-team action in the coming weeks.
Spanish midfielder Brahim Diaz, 18, and 20-year-old defender Tosin Adarabioyo have trained with the first team all season and could be pressed into action.
Bottom of Group F without a point to their name and toiling domestically in defence of their Eredivisie title, Feyenoord face an uphill battle just to secure the consolation of a Europa League place.
City cruised to a 4-0 win in September’s reverse fixture and Feyenoord coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst believes Guardiola’s team are up there with the very best.
“The first game we played against them at home was an outstanding performance from City,” the former Barcelona left-back told Monday’s pre-match press conference at the Etihad Stadium.
“The other teams couldn’t cope with the level they have and the football they are showing.
“I don’t think you will find a person in this room, or Europe or the world even, to say that City are not one of the best teams at the moment.”