MANCHESTER: Pep Guardiola set Manchester City the target of becoming the first English club to win all six of their Champions League group matches after they secured top spot in Group F.
Raheem Sterling struck in the 88th minute to give City a 1-0 win over Feyenoord on Tuesday, which — allied to Shakhtar Donetsk’s 3-0 loss at Napoli — guaranteed Guardiola’s side first place in the group.
He wants his team to finish the job by winning away to Shakhtar on December 6 and is mindful that the Ukrainian club are still vying with Napoli for the one remaining last 16 berth.
“We respect the competition. We respect Shakhtar and we respect Napoli,” Guardiola said.
“We play to win the games and after we will see how we finish. We have one game left and we’re going to see what happens.
“The important thing is 15 points. We are now going to finish good in Shakhtar and win the game. The draw, we’ll see. Last 16, it doesn’t matter which one. Always will be complicated.”
Only six teams have previously won all six of their group games: AC Milan in 1992, Paris Saint-Germain in 1994, Spartak Moscow in 1995, Barcelona in 2002 and Real Madrid in 2011 and 2014.
Guardiola fielded a side showing seven changes from Saturday’s 2-0 win at Leicester City and it took until the dying stages at the Etihad Stadium for his charges to wear Feyenoord down.
Sterling swapped passes with Ilkay Gundogan before haring into the box and neatly lifting a shot over goalkeeper Brad Jones, his former Liverpool team-mate.
Including their victory on penalties over Wolverhampton Wanderers in the League Cup, City have now won their last 17 games in all competitions.
Guardiola used the occasion to hand a debut to 17-year-old midfield starlet Phil Foden and a first Champions League appearance to 18-year-old Spanish midfielder Brahim Diaz.
– ‘Heads held high’ –
“I want to say a big congratulations to the academy,” said the City manager.
“All the club has to be so proud to have two young players of 17, 18 years old making their first appearances in the Champions League.
“For the academy, all the guys who’ve been working for a long time, the scouting, to search for huge talents — I put them on the field, but the guys who have worked with them deserve credit.
“Hopefully they keep growing. They are still young. We don’t need to speed up the process of growing.
“Today it’s their first game in the Champions League. They’ll keep training with us and keep playing. I’ll put them on the pitch and we’ll see in the future.”
The result means Feyenoord cannot rescue even the consolation prize of a berth in the Europa League.
But having seen his players almost succeed in frustrating a team who are currently eight points clear in the Premier League, Feyenoord coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst could look on the bright side.
“When you compare this to the first game, when we were pretty useless (losing 4-0 to City in September), it shows how far we have come in the Champions League,” he said.
“There are clubs who will leave this stadium with their tail between their legs more than we have today.
“Certainly we have met some challenging opponents. We have met the best teams in the UK, Italy and Ukraine.
“It’s been a good experience for us. Hopefully we can walk away from the Champions League with our heads held high.”