Manchester City will begin their Champions League campaign on Tuesday night full of confidence that Pep Guardiola can lead them to new heights, and rightly so.
Manchester City unexpectedly reached the semi-finals last season but were accused of lacking fight as they surrendered to Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Such meetings at the grandest European cathedrals of football should become the norm over the coming years, but the performances will be vastly different.
The City players have shown already this season that they are firmly getting to grips with Pep Guardiola’s demands – they are top of the Premier League having scored the most goals, have played some wonderful football and, crucially given the style with which it is mixed, ran more than any other team.
There is effort and elegance and the signs are that things are only going to get better.
City dominated the first 40 minutes of the Manchester derby and adapted their game after half-time to provide a threat on the counter-attack.
But as Pep Guardiola sat down into his chair in the Old Trafford press room after the match he was keen to caution against getting carried away.
When he faced the media on Monday afternoon ahead of their Champions League opener against Borussia Monchengladbach it was the same message once again.
“We are far away, we are far away from the best,” he said once he had finished discussing the derby victory again. “We are looking forward to competing with the best teams in the Premier League and in Europe but we are far, far away.”
There is no better indication of Guardiola’s high standards than that. City have won their first six competitive games of the season and passed their first stern test with flying colours, but the Catalan wants much, much more.
He will know, too, that there are answers he is yet to find as a coach, let alone as coach of Manchester City.
His record on the road in the knock-out stages is surprisingly poor – he has won just four of 21 matches, and once with Bayern – and there is the (unfair) criticism hanging over him that he failed at Bayern Munich because he did not win the Champions League.
Given City did reach the last four under Manuel Pellegrini there will now also be the expectation that he takes them at least that far in his first season, but he knows the group stage cannot be taken for granted.
Barcelona’s threat speaks for itself, and Celtic have caused plenty of upsets on home soil in recent years, but Guardiola knows all too well that Gladbach are to be taken seriously.
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