REAL MADRID v MANCHESTER CITY
Manchester City will have a point to prove to their critics and themselves as they take on Real Madrid in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Pep Guardiola’s side have picked up an unwanted reputation of being perennial underachievers in the continent’s elite competition, having only reached the semi-finals once despite years of dominance in the English Premier League — arguably the toughest of the top leagues across Europe.
Pep Guardiola has never shied away from his dream of lifting the Champions League trophy with City, but he could not have asked for a tougher draw in the last 16 from the teams available as they are up against the 13-time European champions Real Madrid.
City are facing a two-year ban from the competition — a punishment from Uefa they are appealing at the Court of Arbitration this week — and should that suspension stand, this will be their last chance in a while to get their hands on the trophy — and probably their last under Guardiola’s stewardship.
With those thoughts firmly in mind, City’s Spanish coach has issued a rallying cry to his men in sky blue to give it their all against a Real Madrid side who are not at their Galactico best this season.
“We will try to be ourselves. We can win and we can lose but we must try to be ourselves,” he said.
“We have to show our personality. I know that my players, myself, all the club want to fight until the end for this title. It’s the real test. The kings of this competition against one team who aren’t used to playing these kind of games much, as our best performance was one semi-final.
“But if you want to do that (win the title) you have to face these teams sooner or later ... you have to beat Madrid, you have to beat Barcelona, you have to beat Bayern Munich. You have to beat the big, big teams.
“If we’re able to do it we’ll be so happy.”
They will be more than happy if they defeat a Madrid side — while still under par this season — who are regarded by many are Uefa’s darlings.
While City’s star players such as Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Sergio Aguero will be desperate to win the trophy, to do it this year would taste all the sweeter given their possible ban.
“What would happen if City win this season?” Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher told Sky Sports. “Uefa will be desperate for Man City to be beaten by Madrid.”
Ban or no ban, defeating Real over these next two weeks will be a personal triumph for City.
LYON v JUVENTUS
There is no less intrigue in Wednesday’s other tie as Cristiano Ronaldo is going on a one-man mission to help Juventus end 24 long years without success in Europe’s top tournament.
The evergreen Portuguese star was used to lifting the Champions League silverware while at Real but now he will take some stopping as he bids to win it for the side from Turin.
Ronaldo marked his 1,000th match at Spal for scoring in his 11th straight Serie A game — equalling the record set by Gabriel Batistuta in 1994.
When Lyon boss Rudi Garcia was asked on how he plans to stop Ronaldo this week, he joked: “You stop him at the border, if he decides that he doesn’t like Lyon and doesn’t want to play here,” before adding “I’ll say to everyone that it’s a challenge, a challenge. This must be the motivation. Also for me.”
Lyon are seventh in the league and will have to keep an eye on Juventus’ other scoring threats — Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain — if they are to take a competitive scoreline into the second leg.