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Pep Guardiola in search of perfection to help Man City past Liverpool

MANCHESTER -- There is a clip of Pep Guardiola focusing intently on re-arranging the mobile phones and tape recorders on his desk prior to his news conference ahead of Manchester City's weekend derby encounter with Manchester United.

The City manager appears to be in his own world, head down, as he moves the objects around until they are all perfectly lined up. Then a question comes in and he emerges from his little exercise to discuss the game ahead.

Guardiola likes perfection. He strives for it on a daily basis, perhaps to the point of distraction.

But as his City team prepare, in Guardiola's words, to "climb a mountain" as they seek to overturn a 3-0 deficit in Tuesday's Champions League quarterfinal second-leg against Liverpool, perfection is precisely what the home team need.

"To go through you have to make a perfect game, create chances, be clinical, concede few chances," Guardiola said on Monday, when asked about City's prospects of reaching only the club's second-ever Champions League semifinal

"All the conditions have to be perfect. The result is tough, but we have 90 minutes and in football everything can happen. What we are going to do is try."

Guardiola's intensity is nothing new, and it is a large part of why he and his teams have been so successful.

From insisting on a certain length of grass at the club's training ground, to changing the nets from black to white in the goals at the Etihad Stadium in order to improve the visuals for his forwards, Guardiola does not let allow anything to contribute to imperfection.

But then a setback comes along, two in the space of a week when Liverpool's win is added to United's 3-2 derby victory, and question marks begin to emerge alongside the flaws in Guardiola's pursuit of perfection.

In his news conference to preview the Liverpool tie, Guardiola was once again a bundle of uncontrollable energy, rocking back and forth on his chair, scratching his head and, while midfielder Fernandinho was addressing the media first, the Spaniard oddly turned 90 degrees to focus on the UEFA backdrop behind him.

Perhaps it could be attributed to the rough ride he was expecting. Guardiola is not accustomed to losing football games, let alone two in the space of four days, so the scrutiny he was about to face was a relatively unusual experience for him.

That, combined with the reminder of a Champions League record that has seen him fail to reach a final since 2011, would be an uncomfortable ordeal for most managers.

But Tuesday night offers Guardiola and City the chance to show that his pursuit of perfection does have a reachable final destination. On no fewer than 13 occasions this season, Guardiola's team has achieved a result that would take them through -- or into extra-time at the very least -- against Liverpool on Tuesday.

They score goals like no other team in England, and Guardiola still believes that City can claim an historic victory against Jurgen Klopp's men.

Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp
Pep Guardiola must overcome Jurgen Klopp's side to progress.

"We don't need to think about how many goals we score, we just need to score the first one," he said. The perfect scenario is to go through, but park the emotional game. But the way that my players have played all season showed has what they can do. My team is extraordinary, it is top. My team is exceptional and it is a joy to be manager of this team.

"The team is ready to fight all the teams in Europe. The mountain you have to climb is so high, the quality is so high. To take the next step, maybe we need a little more time, but we are good enough, we are ready to try."

The shadow over Guardiola's pursuit of perfection, however, is his record in the Champions League since winning it for a second time with Barcelona in 2011.

He has not taken any of his teams -- Barca, Bayern Munich or City -- beyond the semifinals since and there have been some humbling eliminations in that time against Real Madrid, Barca and Monaco.

"That's happened, it's true, but it happens in other families too," Guardiola said. "There are many circumstances. In this competition, it's how you handle the emotions, even in the best teams of the world, you concede one and then concede three or four. It can happen."

It cannot happen for City on Tuesday, however.

Guardiola was hired to make the club a force in the Champions League and they were made to look like novices against the European royalty of Liverpool last week. Liverpool showed City and Guardiola that they are not perfect, but it would be foolish to suggest that they cannot come close to achieving it.

It was mobile phones last week, but it is Liverpool that is now the focus of Guardiola's attention. And he still believes he can get everything just as he wants it.

Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_


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