Manchester City braced for Monaco, Leicester face Champions League ‘fight’


Paris (AFP) – Manchester City avoided Europe’s heavyweights in the Champions League last-16 draw but Pep Guardiola’s side must instead beware of an in-form Monaco, the leading scorers in Europe’s top divisions this season.

City host the French league leaders at the Etihad Stadium in the first leg on Tuesday looking to extend a nine-game home unbeaten run in the Champions League.

The Premier League side enjoyed their best European performance in club history as they reached last year’s semi-finals before losing to eventual champions Real Madrid.

But Monaco’s youthful, goal-laden squad will present a formidable challenge as Guardiola tries to keep intact his perfect record of seven victories in as many last-16 ties.

City last week lost Gabriel Jesus to a broken bone in his foot that could rule the Brazilian teen sensation out for the rest of the campaign, but Guardiola was more upbeat over the status of captain Vincent Kompany.

“Two days ago, he felt something in his leg. It is not a big, big issue,” Guardiola said after City were held to a 0-0 draw at second-tier Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup fifth round at the weekend.

Bernardo Silva’s equaliser salvaged a point for Monaco in a 1-1 draw at Bastia on Friday and Portugal team-mate Joao Moutinho has tipped the 22-year-old to go to the very top.

“When Bernardo arrived I straight away said he was a good player but he would have to keep working. And that’s what he’s done this year. He’s had two good seasons but this year he’s proved himself,” Moutinho told AS Monaco TV.

“(Lionel) Messi, Eusebio, Cristiano Ronaldo, (Diego) Maradona, Pele… these are players who are and will remain part of football history. I hope and I think that Bernardo has the quality to get near that level.”

– Leverkusen eye revenge –

Atletico Madrid, twice runners-up to city rivals Real in the past three years, renew acquaintances with Bayer Leverkusen in Germany on Tuesday after meeting at the same stage in 2014-15.

Atletico prevailed on penalties on that occasion and received a huge boost with goalkeeper Jan Oblak cleared to return from a dislocated shoulder that had sidelined the Slovenia international since December.

Defensive pillars Diego Godin and Juanfran are ruled out through injury, while Lucas Hernandez, who has deputised for Godin recently, is due in court the day of the game on domestic violence charges involving his girlfriend.

Kevin Gameiro made his case to partner fellow Frenchman Antoine Griezmann in attack after coming off the bench to net a five-minute hat-trick in a 4-1 win over Sporting Gijon on Saturday.

Sevilla warmed up for the visit of struggling English champions Leicester City with a 2-0 victory over Eibar on Saturday. 

Montenegro international Stevan Jovetic set up both goals in the win and the only question mark over Jorge Sampaoli’s line-up is whether the on-loan Inter Milan man is deployed as a lone striker or alongside Wissam Ben Yedder.

“We have it all to play for on Wednesday. It is a very important game in the history of the club,” said Sampaoli, with Sevilla having only once reached the European Cup quarter-finals, in 1957-58.

– Goalkeeping legends collide –

Leicester have yet to score a single league goal since the turn of the year and manager Claudio Ranieri demanded his players show their resolve after slumping to a 1-0 defeat at 10-man Millwall in the FA Cup.

“Now we have to fight every match. I need soldiers. I need gladiators,” said the Italian. 

Juventus could be without Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini for Wednesday’s trip to Porto.

The 2015 finalists romped to a 4-1 win over Palermo on Friday — Paulo Dybala struck twice with Gonzalo Higuain also on target — to stay seven points clear in Serie A.

Two of the game’s goalkeeping greats, Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon, will face off for perhaps the final time over the two-legged encounter.

“In Europe and around the world, he’s considered one of the best of all time. Ours is a healthy, positive rivalry: we really appreciate each other and playing against him is always a pleasure,” Casillas told UEFA.com while speaking about fellow World Cup winner Buffon.

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