Manuel Pellegrini needs no reminding of the strength of German football – his Málaga team were cruelly eliminated by the eventual finalists Borussia Dortmund in added time in last season's Champions League quarter‑finals after twice holding a lead – but he does not believe his old adversary Pep Guardiola has necessarily relocated to Europe's new powerhouse.
Guardiola brings his Bayern Munich team to the Etihad on Wednesday as European champions, having prevailed against Dortmund at Wembley, though that was actually the last hurrah for the departing coach, Jupp Heynckes.
When Guardiola finally chose his next destination after leaving Barcelona and taking a year out he was considered to have made a smart move, to a leading football nation and a leading club that still had some room for improvement, though as Heynckes's departing gift was an unprecedented German treble it leaves his successor with the uncomfortable feeling that further progress might be a tall order, even when Robert Lewandowski arrives next year.
"It is very difficult at this moment to improve Bayern because they won three competitions last year but he will find a way because he is a very good manager," Pellegrini says. "He knows the way we play, for instance, so he will try different things. But we know lots about Guardiola too. I worked in Spain for nine years, so I know exactly the way Guardiola plays. I have a lot of information, but we have to remember we are not playing Guardiola, we are playing Bayern Munich."
In some ways the odds seem even more stacked against Manchester City than they were on the fateful night in Munich two years ago, when City were English champions and Bayern were considered beatable, although perhaps not by a side demonstrably unhappy with Roberto Mancini's management style. Pellegrini is altogether more relaxed, so much so that he can even suggest reports of German domination of European football have been greatly exaggerated.
"Obviously the two teams in last year's Champions League final were both German but that doesn't mean German football is a long way ahead of the rest," the City manager says. "A few years ago the Champions League final was between Chelsea and Manchester United. Last year was a German year but we'll have to see what happens in the future. Clearly there are strong teams in Germany, not just those two but Schalke as well, but there are strong teams in all the main leagues. Especially in England and in Spain."
Speaking as someone who has successfully punched above his weight with lesser sides such as Villarreal and Málaga, in addition to spending a year at Real Madrid, Pellegrini knows the difference between big and small and puts City in the former camp. "The level of Villarreal or Málaga is not the level of Real Madrid, Barcelona or now Manchester City," he says. "Our goal is to make a mark in the Champions League but you can't do that in one game, not even if you beat the European champions. You have to make your mark over the course of a season and we are still only at the start. The focus at the moment is on qualifying from the group and making it to the last 16 and beating Bayern would help us do that."
City would put themselves in quite a strong position should they beat Bayern, with a win at Viktoria Plzen already under their belt, and home games against the Czechs and CSKA Moscow still to come. Ideally City would like to bag enough points to render the outcome of their final group game, away to Bayern, an irrelevance, because they cannot expect any favours from the Germans if they go there needing a result. "I am sure Guardiola is worrying about our team just as much as I am worrying about his," Pellegrini says. "They have important players who can make a real difference but so do we."