Peter Crouch is a columnist for Sportsmail
Pep Guardiola’s words did not make sense on Monday and they looked even more confusing on Thursday.
It was unusual, to put it mildly, to read Guardiola’s assessment after Manchester City had won at Crystal Palace in the Premier League that his side were ‘still not ready’ to win the Champions League.
I struggle to understand City’s relationship with this competition and here was another incident, from the manager, to leave me puzzled.
City are the team to beat in Europe this season. I know Liverpool are the defending champions and have a fantastic record but I look at City and see the favourites.
I don’t care whether they have not made it past the quarter-finals under Guardiola, the quality they have is a joke.
They are in the process of making short work of Group C. So far, they have three wins out of three, have scored 10 goals and their place in the last 16 will, in all likelihood, be secured after they have played Atalanta – who they thrashed in midweek – in Italy next month.
I would go as far to say that they are now better than Barcelona. Of course, Barcelona have Lionel Messi, the best player to have graced the game, in their ranks but that sense of invincibility has eroded and I believe City are a more-rounded team.
Pep Guardiola’s assessment that Manchester City weren’t ready for Euro glory was unusual
So why aren’t they ready to conquer Europe? This is one of the best teams we have seen in England.
I don’t think it will be appreciated what an achievement 198 points over two seasons is until we look back on this City squad in 10 years’ time. They are magnificent.
Still, you wonder whether it will happen for them this season. You cannot ‘be ready’ at the start of a season to win the Champions League. Were Liverpool ready in 2005? Were Tottenham ready to go all the way to the final last season?
I can understand when managers talk about ‘being ready’ in terms of mounting title challenges but the Champions League is a cup competition. It is a maximum of 13 games and City can take care of most of their opponents without needing to move into second gear.
The quality that Man City have is a joke… this is one of the best teams we have seen in England
But there is something about City and the Champions League that just doesn’t add up.
They should be looking at this as the ultimate opportunity to gloss the magnificent period they have had under Guardiola yet it never feels as if everyone at the club is united in pursuing it.
I rang my uncle Pete, who is a City season-ticket holder, this week to debate this point with him. Pete goes religiously to every game with my two cousins and his ultimate aim for the year is to see City win the Premier League for a third year in a row.
When it comes to Europe, he genuinely isn’t bothered. I tried to argue with him about the Champions League and its magic. If I could come out of retirement and play in one game this season, it would be the Champions League final in Istanbul on May 30 all day long.
With City there just isn’t an affinity with the competition. I know other fans who have season tickets who don’t go to the European games at all.
I respected what Pete said and it made me think. It also put a twist on what Guardiola said to start the week.
Technically and tactically, City are certainly ready to win the Champions League. Emotionally, however, it is different.
Sergio Aguero and Co can take care of most opponents without moving into second gear
They lack the extra one to five per cent in the stadium that will help them through the difficult moments, the kind of edge that makes Liverpool at Anfield so formidable.
Maybe that will change if – and when – City win it.
Until that moment when they made a connection, Europe will always be this way for them. For a club that has so much going for it, it makes so little sense.
FIRMINO’S A GENIUS, I’D LOVE TO HAVE PLAYED WITH HIM
The BT Studio on Wednesday night was a lively place to be when Roberto Firmino delved into his bag of magic tricks during Liverpool’s Champions League defeat of Genk.
I was sitting with Robin van Persie and Rio Ferdinand and the moment Firmino did his ‘Rabona’ pass to Sadio Mane, we were up on our feet, screaming. We asked the guy who puts the clips together to do a special on Firmino and we could have spent the interval talking about him.
Some critics will argue that Liverpool’s Brazilian showboats when he does these skills but you need to watch him closely. He never does a stepover on the halfway line or a rainbow flick by his own goal to show off. He does everything in dangerous areas to create chances.
What I would have done to play alongside Firmino. If I was a manager, Mo Salah would be the one member of Liverpool’s front three that I could not do without. I have huge respect for Mane, too, but from a striker’s point of view, Firmino would be the dream partner.
What I would have done to play alongside Roberto Firmino… he is the dream partner up front
I hate the term ‘false nine’ – I was an actual No 9 and proud of it! – but Firmino plays this position better than anyone in the Premier League and the reason Salah and Mane’s goal returns are going through the roof is because they have such an unselfish partner alongside.
Firmino was nominated for the Ballon d’Or this week and he deserves to be in that category. I recently heard a quote that I loved: ‘If you watch the game you don’t see Firmino. If you watch Firmino you see the whole game.’ Poetry.
He is the man who makes Liverpool tick. He is a genius.
MY FINAL WORD
Dulwich Hamlet are a club I hold in great affection.
I was sent on loan there as a 17-year-old. I played a bit, got kicked a bit and got a couple of goals. But I went back to Tottenham with a different view of football. Dulwich were crucial to my development and gave my career a kick-start.
I was delighted, then, to see the TV cameras will be at Champion Hill, their home, on November 8 for their FA Cup first-round tie against League Two Carlisle.
It is a huge achievement for them, particularly as not so long ago it looked like their very existence was in doubt.
They deserve to enjoy this reward and I hope there will be many more days such as this for them in the future.
I was delighted to see the TV cameras will be at Dulwich Hamlet’s FA Cup clash against Carlisle