Pep Guardiola knows a gulf in calibre still separates his Manchester City side from Real Madrid, regardless of the strides City have taken in recent years.
City head to the Bernabeu for the first leg of their last-16 tie against Madrid on Wednesday, with the match having taken on added emphasis in the wake of the two-year ban handed down to the club by UEFA for “serious breaches” of Financial Fair Play regulations.
City are appealing against that ruling but know this could be their last opportunity to win the trophy they most desire under Pep Guardiola, who is adamant he will stay even if the ban is upheld but whose current contract runs until the summer of 2021.
Guardiola has a long history with Real Madrid from his time as both a player and head coach of their great rivals Barcelona, and recognises the difficulty City, who are yet to advance beyond the semi-finals of the Champions League, face against the 13-time European champions.
“I played many times against them as a player and a manager and I always had an incredible admiration for the history of this club,” Guardiola said. “I know how difficult it is against the quality of their players.
“I don’t know how many finals they have played in or how many times they have lifted (the trophy). For us, maybe Claudio (Bravo, with Barca) has won the Champions League but otherwise we don’t have any players who have won this competition.
“But we have the desire to be ourselves. We can win, we can lose but we must try to be ourselves in these 180 minutes we have to face Real Madrid.
“For us there is an excitement. We try to do our best, knowing we play against the king of this competition.”
City have faced Madrid four times in Europe since 2012, twice beaten by the odd goal in the Spanish capital while drawing both games in Manchester.
“This is the real, real test,” Guardiola added. “Maybe one day we dream to the win the Champions League but to do that we have to face these teams sooner or later. Today it is the last 16 but it might be the quarter-final, semi-final or final.
“You have to beat Real or Barcelona or Bayern (Munich), you have to beat the big clubs in these competitions.
“If we are able to do it we will be so happy. If not then next season…well, next season I don’t know but when we are able to play we are going to come back.”