With their place safely secured back at Europe’s top table, Manchester City can forget all about off-field affairs and get back down to trophy-hunting business on Friday as they look to end Spanish giants Real Madrid’s season at the Etihad on Friday night.
Last month, Pep Guardiola’s side cleared their name over any financial wrongdoings at the Court of Arbitration for Sports and have seen their Uefa Champions League ban revoked.
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Now, almost with a point to prove, they will be desperate to get their hands on the one trophy that has been missing from their cabinet over the past silverware-laden decade.
What a perfect riposte to Uefa’s unfounded allegations it would be if City were to win the competition ...
The Champions League the one City want most, as defender Aymeric Laporte admitted ahead of their last-16 second leg against Real Madrid.
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City have dominated English football in recent years under Pep Guardiola, although they finished second to Liverpool in the Premier League this season, but have yet to add Europe’s most coveted prize to their trophy cabinet.
“City have unfinished business in the Champions League, we have been talking about it for a long time, it’s the thing we are missing,” Laporte told Spanish newspaper AS.
“Last year we won four trophies in the same season but couldn’t win the Champions League, so if it’s our turn this year, perfect.”
City were knocked out in the quarter-finals last year on away goals by Tottenham Hotspur after having a last-gasp effort ruled out by a VAR review. They were beaten on away goals by Monaco in the last 16 in 2017.
“I don’t know what we’ve been doing wrong as the team has been the same in the last few years. Away goals have been key. Last year Tottenham scored the same number of goals as us but eliminated us,” added Laporte.
“We have all the ingredients to do great things. The team is really up for it, we don’t have to change much, we just need a little more luck. We have lacked that final spark which I’m sure we’ll find soon.”
City hold a 2-1 lead over Real going into Friday’s second leg at an empty Etihad Stadium and will be without all-time top scorer Sergio Aguero through injury.
Real will be missing captain Sergio Ramos, who was sent off in the first leg.
“Everyone knows Aguero, he’s an important player to be missing just like theirs. All the goals that he has scored and the career he’s had since he was young speak for themselves,” said Laporte.
“He’s one of the best strikers I’ve ever seen but we believe in our other team mates. Sergio Ramos is also a very important player but we want to show that we can play better than them.”
Juventus’ fighting chance
In Friday’s other clash, Juventus trail Lyon and are sweating on an unlikely hero to see them through.
On the verge of being sold to Manchester United last summer, Paulo Dybala is once again Juve’s hero as the newly crowned Italian champions race to get him ready for their Champions League showdown.
This time last year Dybala, 26, looked to be the counterweight in Romelu Lukaku’s transfer to Turin but has since re-established himself as the fulcrum of Juve’s attack alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, scoring 16 goals in all competitions and setting up 14 more.
His form led to him being crowned Serie A’s MVP on Tuesday ahead of Ronaldo and European Golden Shoe winner Ciro Immobile.
And now Dybala is reportedly on the verge of a new five-year deal with Juve, a remarkable turnaround from what at one point seemed a near-certain departure to England.
Now the Italian champions are feverishly trying to help the Argentine recover from a thigh injury picked up the night they won their ninth straight Scudetto in the hope he can start against Lyon on Friday night.
Last week coach Maurizio Sarri said that Dybala’s “recovery process is going well”, but admitted he wasn’t sure when Dybala would return to action.
Juve trail the Ligue 1 side, who lost on penalties to Paris St-Germain in the French League Cup final at the weekend, following their 1-0 defeat in France six months ago.
Despite winning the league with two matches to spare, their form at the end of the campaign has raised concerns that they might not make the final eight tournament in Lisbon later this month.
They finished the season with just two wins and four defeats in their final eight matches, with performances throughout the season rarely hitting the heights of the past dominating nine years.
Sarri has accused the league of “creating problems” for his team with a packed schedule and had threatened to play Juve’s under-23 side against Roma on the final weekend, a match which ended in a thumping 3-1 defeat.
“We’ve switched off in the last few matches, now we need to turn it back on again for Lyon,” Sarri admitted after that loss, the first time Roma had ever earned points at the Allianz Stadium. “Getting all the switches reconnected won’t come automatically.”
“It’s true that a team playing every three days will be tired and have injuries but the fact that Juventus have won something before allows them to recover,” Lyon coach Rudi Garcia told Gazzetta dello Sport.
“To play 120 minutes against that PSG attack without conceding is a good sign. And it’s not like we spent the whole game in our area — we had the same possession and took more shots than them”.
Former Roma coach Garcia, who will be able to count on key forward Memphis Depay after his return from a serious knee injury in Friday’s final, told the Gazzetta that he is aiming for a similar display in Turin, saying that “we’re not going to defend the whole match”.
“We need to find a way to score a goal, if that happens it will be difficult to knock us out,” he said.
(First-leg scores in parenthesis)
Manchester City (2) v Real Madrid (1), 11pm
Juventus (0) v Lyon (1)
Bayern Munich (3) v Chelsea (0), 11pm
Barcelona (1) v Napoli (1), 11pm
— With agencies