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
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.”