From Pep Guardiola, there was the usual torrent of adjectives about his team. They are, the Manchester City coach said, beautiful and extraordinary and exceptional.
Even after the defeat by Manchester United at the weekend, he was – he said – ‘delighted to lose the way we lost’.
The problem is, disappointments and failures change the way things feel. City are the best team in the Premier League and are only going to get better. But all of a sudden there are other words to describe them. Human could be one. Vulnerable is another.
After a heavy first leg defeat at Anfield, Pep Guardiola needs a ‘perfect’ performance from City
The last week has shown City are human and vulnerable when defensively put under pressure
Guardiola accepted the result is ‘tough’ but believed his extraordinary side have the ability
This is the strange atmosphere that hangs over Tuesday’s Champions League second leg against Liverpool at the Etihad. If City are unique, as their coach seems to believe they are, then now is the time to show it.
City do not need a great display against Jurgen Klopp’s team. That will not be enough to come back from 3-0 down. No, City need perfection of the type rarely seen in sport.
‘Yes, to go through we have to make almost the perfect game,’ conceded Guardiola.
‘Create chances, be clinical, concede few chances. All the conditions have to be perfect because the result is tough.’
City are more than capable of beating Liverpool well on Tuesday. They scored five against them last September.
With Sergio Aguero back in the team, they will be stronger than last week at Anfield, while Liverpool – minus their banned captain Jordan Henderson – will be weaker.
But, as Guardiola said on Monday, sport can be a bit like life. He meant that it comprises ups and downs and that after disappointment can come opportunity for improvement.
What is equally true is that it can be affected by mood and confidence and state of mind.
A return to the side for striker Sergio Aguero makes City a tougher proposition than at Anfield
This, rather than anything truly sporting, is the greatest obstacle to a City miracle against Liverpool.
Can a team humbled at Anfield and brought to their knees by a rush of United goals three days later raise themselves sufficiently to overpower a side Guardiola admits present him with almost bespoke problems?
It seems a huge ask and one the City coach could not quite bring himself to be bullish about when he spoke on Monday.
‘I don’t know, but if we are not able to do it then it will be a good lesson for the future because we are not here for just a few months, but for a long period,’ he said.
‘Football is a challenge like life and we are happy to handle it.
Speaking on Monday, a bullish Guardiola insisted it is a ‘good lesson for future’ if they go out
‘My team are extraordinary, not comparable to many others. It’s top, exceptional. It’s a joy to be manager of them. Even three days ago, the way we played, I was so delighted.’
To work under Guardiola must be fabulous. His mish-mash of intelligence, generosity and hyper-activity must serve as fuel to those big enough to cope. But sometimes even he cannot talk his way round the obvious.
The three United goals scored against City on Saturday were nothing to take delight in. They were adroitly dispatched but they were lousy defensive goals.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp did not rise to the bait when asked about them on Monday but his eyes must have lit up when he watched the game.
City looked dazed and confused by even the most basic United football on Saturday evening. All of a sudden, defenders Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi looked less ready for a title party and more in need of a lie down as far away as possible from anybody dressed in red.
So this, as well as his modest Champions League record since leaving Barcelona, are the dangers that stalk Guardiola.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp will have been pleased to see City’s defensive issues in the derby
City will not worry about their ability to score goals. Liverpool have recorded eight clean sheets in their last 12 games, but that statistic cannot mask a slight vulnerability of their own.
Guardiola knows Liverpool concede poor goals and in goalkeeper Loris Karius – once on the City staff – they have a player not experienced at this exalted level.
It is, one suspects, the ability of Liverpool to score at the Etihad that holds the key to whether a night of true drama awaits. If Liverpool score once, City will need five.
Barcelona turned around a greater deficit than this against Paris Saint-Germain last season, when a 4-0 away defeat was somehow followed by a 6-1 victory at the Nou Camp.
The real key to the second leg at the Etihad is whether Klopp’s exciting side can score a goal
Paris Saint-Germain lost a four-goal cushion away to Barcelona in last year’s competition
We should remember, though, how much that performance owed to fortune and a smattering of the dark arts before Barcelona dragged themselves over the line.
‘This team are ready to fight with all the teams in Europe, but the mountain we have to climb is high,’ admitted Guardiola.
‘For the next step maybe we need more time. But we’ve done better than last season and my feeling is next season we will be better. So you need to take steps. We are good enough and ready to try.’