Toure claims City can be con­sid­ered No 1 team in Europe

Veteran says Guardi­ola’s style ‘earns re­spect’ No let-up as strong squad travel to face Shakhtar

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Sport Champions League - By Luke Ed­wards in Kharkiv Shakhtar Don v Man City

Yaya Toure has de­scribed Manch­ester City as the best team in Europe on cur­rent form as man­ager Pep Guardi­ola de­cided not to leave his star names at home for their fi­nal Cham­pi­ons League group game against Shakhtar Donetsk.

Given City are al­ready through to the knock­out stage as group win­ners, Guardi­ola could have spared his key men the long trip to Ukraine, but the only two play­ers left at home were the sus­pended Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva.

Al­though Guardi­ola claimed that Silva is in­jured, he re­fused to say what the prob­lem is and there is a sus­pi­cion that the 31-year-old has been af­forded the lux­ury of rest while ev­ery­one else has been made to travel.

It may seem like a strange call from Guardi­ola ahead of Sun­day’s Manch­ester derby with United, but he does not want to give the im­pres­sion that any games are mean­ing­less, par­tic­u­larly when he sees De­cem­ber as a piv­otal month in terms of City’s Pre­mier League ti­tle as­pi­ra­tions.

City have price­less mo­men­tum – unbeaten since April – and the Spa­niard sim­ply does not want to do any­thing that puts that at risk, par­tic­u­larly in his 100th Cham­pi­ons League game as a man­ager. Mo­men­tum can stall in strange places, par­tic­u­larly if you al­low com­pla­cency to creep in ahead of a gru­elling mid­week Euro­pean trip.

With that mind, al­though there will be al­ter­ations to the start­ing line-up, with fledg­ing for­ward Phil Fo­den and mid­fielder Brahim Diaz pos­si­bly start­ing a se­nior game for the first time, hav­ing made their de­buts against Feyeno­ord a fort­night ago, they will be sur­rounded by se­nior play­ers.

The team will be led by Ivory Coast veteran Toure, who be­lieves City are start­ing to de­mand re­spect across Europe be­cause of the style of foot­ball that they have de­liv­ered in Guardi­ola’s sec­ond sea­son as man­ager.

“To be hon­est, I think we prac­tice the best foot­ball in Europe when we go for­ward,” said Toure. “We find it dif­fi­cult against some op­po­nents, so we need to play against a big op­po­nent to see where we are.

“I think teams show us re­spect now, they re­spect us more. They feel the way we play and we at­tack all the teams. We are in a good mo­ment, full of con­fi­dence. If you ask all my team-mates they are all en­joy­ing it.

“It’s like when you are young, you al­ways want to play. The way we con­trol games and score goals is some­thing fan­tas­tic. In the [Guardi­ola’s] first year you could see we were try­ing to get the tac­tics of the man­ager. Now we have new play­ers who have done very well.

“The Pre­mier League is such a dif­fi­cult league be­cause all the op­po­nents are tough and we don’t have time to work prop­erly [in train­ing]. All the play­ers are play­ing in their na­tional team, it makes it dif­fi­cult.

“But all the play­ers now, whether they are young or old, they are get­ting the tac­tics, we know what we are do­ing. We can score at the be­gin­ning of games or at the end.

“Some of the teams are de­fend­ing with five and [still] find­ing it dif­fi­cult. We are play­ing with pas­sion and, in the end, we are get­ting the goals.”

Guardi­ola warmly em­braced Toure at the end of his spell in front of the me­dia, be­fore he tried to en­sure ev­ery­one re­tains a sense of per­spec­tive at this stage of the cam­paign.

“We are do­ing well, but that doesn’t mean you will achieve [win] the ti­tle,” said the man­ager. “In this com­pe­ti­tion one bad 45 min­utes and you are out. You can go out even if you are do­ing well. There are many rea­sons why you can win or not.

“I’m not con­cerned if we are play­ing the best foot­ball. The last month we were okay, sta­ble, more chances cre­ated, and we have con­ceded less and we be­lieve in what we do.

“But my opin­ion on what hap­pens in the fu­ture, noth­ing changes, that is the thing I am proud of the most. To­mor­row, we play to win the game, I prom­ise you.

“And next Sun­day too, but I also as­sure you that, sooner or later, we’ll lose a game.

“We are so happy to be in the last 16 of the Cham­pi­ons League, but it will be tough against Shakhtar, they are a good team and we re­spect them a good deal. Af­ter the game we will sleep, we will try to re­cover and we will try to win the next game, too.”

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