Marseille coach Andre Villas-Boas said on Monday Manchester City are “a machine ready to win the Champions League”, on the eve of the two teams’ group-stage meeting.
City have never reached the Champions League final and are yet to even reach the semi-finals in four attempts under Pep Guardiola.
“(City) are a machine ready to win the Champions League,” said Villas-Boas. “They may not be at their best level, their coach admitted that.
“That’s why I allow myself to say that, but they are still at a higher level than us and remain the favourites tomorrow (Tuesday).”
City, who relinquished their Premier League title last season to Liverpool, have only won twice in five league games this season.
Marseille, the only French club to win the European Cup, are playing their first Champions League campaign since 2013-14 when they were knocked out in the group stage.
They lost their Group C opener to Olympiakos last week but have made a solid start in Ligue 1 and are only three points behind the pace-setting Paris Saint-Germain and Lille.
Dimitri Payet has only scored once this season, and Villas-Boas admitted he needs his star winger to find form.
“Dimitri (Payet) is a key player. We have spoken and we both know he can do better,” said the former Chelsea and Tottenham coach.
“But it does not only depend on him, but also on the team, which must help raise his level. He needs to rediscover what he brought to the team last season.”
City came from behind to beat Porto 3-1 last week in Manchester, but Guardiola will likely make at least one change to that team, with Kevin De Bruyne fit again and Sergio Aguero struggling with a muscle problem.
Villas-Boas admitted he cannot know what to expect from Guardiola, who has been criticised for tinkering tactically in Europe.
“Pep is able to create surprises, and the problem with City is that they have several dynamics and they can adapt. For us, however, this is not a game for experimenting.”
Jorge Messi, father and agent of Lionel Messi, appeared to concede his son could remain at Barcelona this season, according to footage broadcast by Spanish media on Thursday.
Messi senior seemingly replied “yes” when asked by a reporter if they had considered the possibility of staying at the club for another season and then leaving for free next year, in a video recorded by Spanish TV station Cuatro.
The images were captured as Jorge Messi pulled into a parking garage reportedly for another day of meetings with the family’s lawyers.
He had arrived in Barcelona on Wednesday, landing at the private terminal in El Prat airport on a flight from the Argentine city of Rosario.
Six-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi boycotted Barcelona’s first pre-season training session on Monday, as he tries to force his way out of the club he joined as a 13-year-old.
Messi also failed to attend a coronavirus test at Barcelona’s training ground on Sunday.
Messi’s father was followed throughout the city by reporters and TV crews on Wednesday and told reporters it would be “difficult” for his son to stay at Barcelona.
According to local reports, club directors met with Messi and his advisors for more than two hours on Wednesday, but neither party was willing to alter their stance. Further negotiations are expected to be held in due course between Barcelona and Messi’s entourage, which also includes his brother Rodrigo.
Barcelona insist their captain remains under contract until June 2021 and will only depart if his 700-million-euro ($833 million) release clause is activated, a stance that has been backed up by La Liga, who say that release clause still applies.
But Messi and his lawyers argue he is allowed to go for free this summer according to another clause in his contract, which they claim was triggered on August 25 when a burofax stating Messi’s intention to leave arrived at Camp Nou.
Abu Dhabi-owned Manchester City have expressed an interest in signing him.
The first indication of how determined Lionel Messi is to leave Barcelona and how ugly this dispute could become will be gauged at the club’s training ground on Sunday.
Barca’s greatest ever player is due at the Ciutat Esportiva on Sunday morning for coronavirus tests, which must be taken and passed if he is to join Ronald Koeman’s first pre-season session on Monday.
Messi’s attendance or absence will be his first public demonstration since the burofax that stated his intention to leave for free arrived in the offices of Camp Nou on Tuesday evening and shocked the world of football.
Barcelona’s newly-appointed sporting director Ramon Planes said on Wednesday the expectation was Messi would be present on Sunday for testing and then training on Monday as usual.
But while Messi was initially inclined to comply and avoid escalating tensions further, his lawyers have since advised him to stay away, Catalunya Radio were reporting on Saturday.
Taking part in the team’s pre-season programme ahead of La Liga starting on September 12 could damage his legal case if his departure ends up being settled in court.
Barcelona insist a clause included in Messi’s contract that allowed him to go for free this summer had to be activated by June 10 and is therefore no longer valid.
The only way Messi will be allowed to depart, the club argue, is through his release clause, set at 700 million euros ($833 million) until his contract expires on June 30, 2021.
But Messi’s side believes the clause refers not to a specific date but to 10 days after the end of the season, which this year was extended into August due to the pandemic, with the Champions League final only played last weekend.
If the Argentinian refuses to show up for tests on Sunday, and by extension pre-season training on Monday, it will suggest there is no going back.
The assumption will be that Messi is prepared to do whatever it takes to quit the club he joined as a 13-year-old boy, and where most expected him to continue all the way through to retirement.
– Barca standing firm, for now –
Instead, bitterness and resentment could accompany the unthinkable process of Messi being punished by Barcelona for absence, in the form of fines or a reduction in salary.
If he returns, those supporters who stormed Camp Nou in protest this week may feel an inkling of hope.
Cajoled by team-mates — although many of them expect to leave too — Messi could be persuaded to stay.
Mundo Deportivo, the Barcelona daily with close links to the board, wrote on Saturday how the club is adamant the Argentinian will remain.
“The more the days go by, the firmer the board and president Josep Maria Bartomeu are in not moving from their position,” it read. “Which is not to sell and, if possible, to renew the contract of Messi.”
Yet every stance is arguably now a negotiating ploy and Messi’s return on Sunday might only offer false hope to the fans.
Bartomeu made it known through the Spanish press on Thursday that he would resign if Messi said publicly that he was the problem and agreed to change his mind.
But Messi has instead asked for a meeting, not to negotiate, but to begin facilitating an amicable and dignified departure.
“Messi’s decision to leave Barca irreversible,” read Diario Sport on Saturday.
Manchester City remain favourites to sign the 33-year-old, whose basic salary alone amounts to around 60 million euros.
If Barcelona and Messi decide to avoid a lengthy legal process, a compromise selling price of around 100 million euros could be within reach for City, while eliminating their less wealthy rivals.
Messi has reportedly spoken to City coach Pep Guardiola already but others remain in the running, including Paris Saint-Germain, Inter Milan and Juventus.
The Italian sides would likely require a much-reduced price to afford any deal. But Juve might view the chance to combine Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as a historic sporting and commercial opportunity too good to pass up.
Manchester City took advantage of two shocking mistakes by Raphael Varane to beat Real Madrid 2-1 in their Champions League last 16-second leg on Friday and advance to the quarter-finals as Pep Guardiola came out on top in his duel with Zinedine Zidane.
The Frenchman had never been knocked out of Europe’s elite club competition as Real coach, leading them to three consecutive victories between 2016 and 2018 in his first spell before returning to the job last year.
But Madrid had been left with a mountain to climb in this tie after throwing away the lead to lose 2-1 in the first leg in Spain in February, before the coronavirus forced the competition into hibernation.
An identical defeat at an empty Etihad Stadium means it is City who advance 4-2 on aggregate.
Without Sergio Ramos due to suspension, Real were undone by mistakes by their other first-choice centre-back.
Varane was dispossessed inside the box in the ninth minute allowing Raheem Sterling to put City ahead, and his poor headed backpass attempt gifted Gabriel Jesus another goal midway through the second half.
Before that second goal the tie had been in the balance with the in-form Karim Benzema having scored for the visitors just before the half-hour mark.
The circumstances may be highly unusual, but this is still City’s finest Champions League result, their most significant victory in a knock-out tie.
Their best performance in the competition remains a run to the semi-finals in 2016, when they went out rather limply to Real.
Now they should very possibly be considered the favourites to win the competition in Lisbon on August 23.
If they do so, the victory would taste all the sweeter coming so soon after their successful appeal to the Court of Arbitration of Sport against a two-year ban from Europe handed down by UEFA for breaches of their Financial Fair Play rules.
They have already qualified for next season’s tournament after coming second in the Premier League but now they can look forward to facing Lyon in the quarter-finals next Saturday at the Estadio Jose Alvalade.
Real, meanwhile, will get over this.
They have dined out on success in the Champions League in recent years but their main objective after the coronavirus shutdown was to win La Liga and they did that.
Zidane’s team overhauled Barcelona thanks to 10 successive victories after La Liga returned in June but they were not especially prolific in front of goal during that run, despite Benzema’s fine form.
It was already going to be an uphill struggle for them in the absence of Ramos, sent off late in the first leg, and their task became even harder after they conceded an early opener.
City’s high pressing paid off as Varane was barged off the ball in his own area by Jesus, who squared for Sterling to roll in.
There was a response from the 13-time European champions, though, with Benzema and Eden Hazard both forcing saves from Ederson before their equaliser on the night arrived in the 28th minute.
A fine move ended with Benzema feeding Rodrygo and the young Brazilian clipping in a cross from the right for the Frenchman, who rose above Aymeric Laporte and Fernandinho to head in from the edge of the six-yard box.
It was his 65th goal in the Champions League, putting him one clear of Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski on the overall list and behind only Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Raul.
Unfortunately for Real, Benzema was not able to add to that tally and this tie was effectively ended by another Varane blooper.
The Frenchman struggled with an awkward high ball downfield and his header back towards Thibaut Courtois was short, allowing Jesus to prod it beyond the goalkeeper and into the net.
Real will not return to Lisbon, where they won the Champions League in 2014, but the dream remains alive for Guardiola and City.
Manchester City’s appeal against a two-year ban from European competition will be heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) from Monday in a case of wide-reaching repercussions.
City are accused of overstating sponsorship revenue to hide that they had not complied with UEFA’s financial fair play (FFP) rules between 2012 and 2016 and were also handed a 30 million euro ($34 million, £27 million) fine.
UEFA’s case was prompted when German magazine Der Spiegel published a series of leaked emails in 2018 that purported to show how City manufactured extra sponsorship revenue from a series of companies with connections to the club’s Abu Dhabi-based owner Sheikh Mansour.
Under the Sheikh’s ownership, City’s fortunes have been transformed from perennially living in the shadow of local rivals Manchester United to winning four Premier League titles in the past eight years.
However, billions of investment in players and managers has not yet been able to deliver the club’s first ever Champions League title.
City are still involved in this season’s competition and will be allowed to compete should the 2019/20 edition of Champions League return in August no matter the outcome of the appeal.
– Financial hit –
But a two-season ban from the competition would represent a huge blow to the club’s prestige, finances and hope of hanging onto manager Pep Guardiola and key players like Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling.
“Two years would be long. One year is something I might be able to cope with,” De Bruyne told Het Laatste Nieuws last month.
Manchester United and Manchester City have joined forces to donate a combined £100,000 ($117,000) to help local foodbanks affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Collections are normally made at home games for both Manchester giants by fans’ groups supporting foodbanks, but football in England is suspended until at least April 30 due to restrictions on mass gatherings due to coronavirus.
“We are proud of the role our supporters play in helping local food banks and recognise the increased strain likely to be placed on these charities by the impact of coronavirus,” the clubs said in a joint statement.
“At a time of challenge for our community, we are pleased to come together with our fans to help vulnerable members of society in a City United.”
The donation will support the Trussell Trust’s 19 foodbank centres in the Greater Manchester area.
United have been taken steps to try to alleviate the burden on their staff and supporters during the crisis.
The Red Devils have vowed to pay 3,000 casual staff even for the remainder the season even if matches at Old Trafford are forced behind closed doors or cancelled.
And fans who travelled to Austria for the Europa League last 16, first leg against LASK only for the game to be played behind closed doors at late notice were given a £350 ($415) payment towards travel and accommodation.
Britain ramped up its response to the pandemic on Friday by ordering pubs, restaurants, cafes and gyms to close.
Manchester City’s Champions League last 16, second leg with Real Madrid and Lyon’s trip to Juventus became the latest high-profile football matches to be postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak, UEFA confirmed on Thursday.
Juventus defender Daniele Rugani has tested positive for the virus, forcing players and staff of the Italian champions into quarantine.
Madrid players have also been put into isolation after one of the club’s basketball players tested positive for COVID-19.
Both matches were due to take place on Tuesday, March 17.
As it stands, Wednesday’s two last 16, second legs between Bayern Munich and Chelsea and Barcelona and Napoli are still set to go ahead behind closed doors.
However, UEFA is to have a crisis meeting on Tuesday with representatives from all 55 national associations and club and player bodies to decide how national leagues, European competitions and Euro 2020 should proceed.
“The decision to postpone Tuesday’s game was made in conjunction with UEFA and follows confirmation that players from Real Madrid will self-isolate for fifteen days,” City said in a statement.
“The Club sends its best wishes to the players and staff at Real Madrid’s football and basketball teams.”
Serie A in Italy, the European country worst hit by the virus, has already suspended its matches until April 3.
Matches have been suspended for two weeks in Spain, while France’s Ligue 1 will continue its season but without spectators.
No such restrictions have been put upon Premier League games with a full round of games set to take place this weekend.
City’s home match with Arsenal that was due to take place on Wednesday is the only Premier League game to be abandoned so far after Arsenal players came into contact with Olympiakos owner Vangelis Marinakis, who tested positive for the virus, after a Europa League match two weeks ago.
Pep Guardiola urged his Manchester City squad to maintain their hunger for more trophies after picking up the eighth of his four-season reign with a third consecutive League Cup.
City have more cup success in sight as they travel to Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup fifth round on Wednesday and lead Real Madrid 2-1 after the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie.
Guardiola has now won 29 trophies in his managerial career after similarly successful spells at Barcelona and Bayern Munich and he wants City to match the demands of those European giants going forward.
“I learnt in the big clubs I was at before, and in their history, when they win a trophy they go and take a shower, and they are thinking in that moment about the next one,” said Guardiola on Tuesday.
“It is so nice what we have done in that competition in the last three years but in this game we have another final.
“Away in the FA Cup is always difficult because of how important this competition is for the clubs in this country. We can go through to the quarter-finals and that is what we have to do.”
The appointment of Guardiola has accelerated City’s rise to the top of the English game after Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini also won Premier League titles backed by the billions spent by the club’s Abu Dhabi-based owners.
Sunday’s success was City’s 11th major trophy since ending a 35-year wait for silverware by winning the 2011 FA Cup under Mancini.
“There is a lot of effort behind this,” added Guardiola. “The most important thing was the league when Roberto Mancini was here. It changed the mentality of the club.
“The first one is always the most difficult one and Roberto Mancini and his people and players did it, then other people came after them and continued the process.”
Injuries have helped halt City’s attempt at a third straight Premier League title as they trail runaway leaders Liverpool by 22 points.
Leroy Sane has missed most of the season due to a cruciate ligament injury suffered in the Community Shield in August.
The German winger is now back in training, but Guardiola will not rush him back to feature in midweek.
“He is not ready. (After) six months, (it) needs a process. When you start (back training) you feel good but still it is not (right), especially confidence,” said Guardiola.
“He is doing the normal steps to come back but maybe it will be easier to play in the Premier League, which we don’t have chance to win, than in this cup competition. We need to be incredibly focused all the way through.”
Manchester City claimed the League Cup for the fourth time in five seasons by beating Aston Villa 2-1 at Wembley on Sunday thanks to goals from Sergio Aguero and Rodrigo.
Mbwana Samatta pulled a goal back for Villa, but their wait for the club’s first silverware since 1996 goes on as Pep Guardiola’s men have now won six of the last seven major trophies in English football.
Guardiola made eight changes from the side that won 2-1 at Real Madrid in the Champions League on Wednesday with Kevin De Bruyne among those left on the bench.
However, it mattered little as City had the luxury of recalling Aguero, Raheem Sterling and David Silva to the starting XI, and the gulf in class showed.
Guardiola’s raft of changes also handed a rare start to Phil Foden and the 19-year-old more than justified his selection.
Rodrigo’s fine pass picked out Foden to head back into the path of Aguero and the Argentine’s deflected effort beat Orjan Nyland in the Villa goal to open the scoring on 20 minutes.
Foden was then inches away from a goal himself with a deflected shot that flew inches wide.
Villa felt aggrieved when City were awarded another corner moments later after Jack Grealish fired the ball off Ilkay Gundogan for what should have been a goal kick.
Instead, City doubled their lead as Gundogan’s corner was met with a powerful downward header from Rodrigo.
Villa could barely even get a touch for the next 10 minutes as the holders threatened to run riot in a repeat of the 6-1 thrashing they handed the hosts at Villa Park last month.
Sterling had a glorious chance for his first goal of 2020 deflected behind by a brave block from Tyrone Mings.
But moments later the reason Mings is ahead of John Stones in the pecking order for England selection became clear as the City defender inexplicably fell to the floor to give Villa a lifeline.
A long ball forward eventually came to Anwar El Ghazi and from his cross Samatta headed low past Claudio Bravo to the delight of the travelling thousands from Birmingham and Villa fan Prince William in the stands.
The difference in the desperation for success between the supports was obvious as Villa were roared on vociferously throughout, while City failed to sell out their allocation.
That did not compensate for the difference in quality on the field as City quickly settled back into their rhythm and could then introduce De Bruyne for the final half hour.
However, City failed to turn their dominance into more goals as Rodrigo was denied by a fine save by Nyland from another corner before Aguero then fired into the side-netting to give Villa hope for the last 10 minutes.
And they were very nearly punished as the often-criticised Bravo had to make a brilliant save three minutes from time to turn Bjorn Engels’ header onto the post and maintain City’s grip on the competition.
Kevin De Bruyne orchestrated a dramatic Manchester City comeback on Wednesday as they stunned Real Madrid 2-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu to put one foot in the Champions League quarter-finals.
Madrid looked on course to edge a cagey contest after Isco’s smart finish early in the second half, but De Bruyne teed up Gabriel Jesus in the 78th minute and then tucked away a penalty five minutes later.
A pulsating finish saw Sergio Ramos sent off for preventing Jesus from going clear and Madrid’s captain will now be banned for the second leg at the Etihad Stadium on March 17.
City’s two away goals will make them heavy favourites to go through, even if manager Pep Guardiola was quick to discourage complacency.
“It’s still not over,” he said. “If there is one team that can overcome this it is this club (Real Madrid) with their experience and their history.”
“We know the situation,” said Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane. “We have to go there and win.”
Madrid have now won only one of their last five games, with the Clasico against Barcelona in La Liga to come on Sunday.
“We are on a bad run but we have to get ourselves out of it,” said Zidane. “Sunday is a chance to change.”
Strikers on bench
Guardiola sprung a surprise by picking De Bruyne up front and leaving Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho all on the bench.
“We played without a proper striker because of the way they defend,” said Guardiola.
“They are so aggressive down the middle and when that happens you have to make the pitch wide.”
His gamble paid off handsomely, even if Nicolas Otamendi made the mistake that led to Isco’s opener while an injury to Aymeric Laporte meant Fernandinho had to be introduced midway through the first half.
Laporte must now be doubtful for Sunday’s League Cup final against Aston Villa.
Guardiola insisted on Tuesday that Manchester City’s two-year Champions League ban, pending appeal, imposed by UEFA for breaching financial fair play rules would not act as a spur for his players.
But it was on the minds of travelling fans, who were singing against European football’s governing body from almost the first minute.
The opening half was tentative with both teams’ priority to stifle and City content to concede possession, so long as Jesus and Riyad Mahrez could race away on the break.
Jesus cut inside Raphael Varane but shot straight at Thibaut Courtois and on the stroke of half-time, the Brazilian came close again, this time Ramos blocking and Fede Valverde hacking away off the line.
Real should have scored when Karim Benzema’s header was palmed out by Ederson but Vinicius Junior slipped when about to tap in from five yards out with the goal at his mercy.
City enjoyed their best spell after the break. Casemiro carelessly conceded possession and De Bruyne tore away, feeding Mahrez, who cut in and curled wide. Jesus drove another shot at Courtois.
Zidane considered a change and Gareth Bale was warming up when Madrid took the lead. Otamendi failed to control a Rodri pass and Vinicius broke, with Kyle Walker and Fernandinho rushing to meet him.
They left Isco free behind them and Vinicius picked him out, giving the Spaniard a simple finish.
The hosts smelt an opportunity for a second as Dani Carvajal weaved through and Ramos’s volley was deflected over by Fernandino.
Bale came on for Madrid and Sterling for City. Shortly after, De Bruyne’s clipped cross was too high for Ramos at the back post and Jesus’s header beat a weak right hand from Courtois to equalise.
Five minutes later, City completed the turnaround when Carvajal slid in late on Sterling and De Bruyne made no mistake from the spot.
Eden Hazard’s season could be at risk after Real Madrid announced on Sunday that he had fractured his right ankle during his team’s 1-0 La Liga defeat at Levante.
Belgium forward Hazard, whose first season at Real has been plagued by injury, will now miss Wednesday’s Champions League last 16 clash with Manchester City and the Clasico with league leaders Barcelona next weekend.
He has made just 10 La Liga appearances this season after arriving from Chelsea for 100 million euros ($109 million), scoring once and adding one assist.
Madrid did not announce a recovery time for Hazard but his latest setback will be a worry for Belgium boss Roberto Martinez ahead of Euro 2020 this summer.
On Saturday, Madrid coach Zinedine admitted that the 29-year-old’s injury “doesn’t look good” ahead of those two huge matches, which could define his side’s season.
Hazard was pictured with an ice pack around the same right foot he broke in November after being substituted in the second half of Saturday’s loss, which handed a two-point La Liga lead to Barca ahead of next week’s Clasico at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Hazard made his first start in almost three months against Celta Vigo last weekend and started again at Levante, with a view to regaining sharpness before the City showdown.
Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers believes Manchester City will use their shock European ban to inspire them to a successful end to the season.
Pep Guardiola’s side were hit with a two-year suspension from the Champions League and Europa League and fined 30 million euros by UEFA on Friday for alleged breaches of Financial Fair Play regulations.
Leicester face City at the King Power Stadium on Saturday in the Premier League champions’ second game since the ban.
Second-placed City, who plans to appeal against the suspension, beat West Ham 2-0 on Wednesday to four points clear of third-placed Leicester in the Premier League table.
While Guardiola’s men are 22 points behind leaders Liverpool, Rodgers doesn’t expect any slip in City’s standards following the ban, with this season’s Champions League, the FA Cup and League Cup all available as potential trophies to ease their pain.
“It will galvanise them as a squad, these types of situations where there are questions around the club,” Rodgers told reporters on Thursday.
“The players will become stronger for it, they will show that spirit, I’m pretty much sure of that.
“They’ll want to show no matter what the issues are, they’re still very talented players.
“It’s an ongoing process, of course, but I think for Pep and his players they’ll be very determined to finish the season as strong as they can, in every competition they are in.”
Meanwhile, Rodgers denied Leicester have made any approach to sign Liverpool midfielder Adam Lallana.
Lallana, 31, is out of contract at the end of the season and it has been reported Leicester have spoken to his representatives.
But Rodgers, in charge at Liverpool when they signed Lallana from Southampton in 2014, insisted no contact had been made.
“I’ve seen a lot of stuff around Adam and that we’ve approached Liverpool and what not, which obviously isn’t the case,” he said.
“But Adam is a wonderful player and not only that he’s got a great attitude.
“When I took him into Liverpool he was unfortunate early on with injuries, but he showed when he’s fit and available he’s a fantastic player.
“He’s at the stage of his contract where he will have options I’m sure. But certainly, what’s been put out there over these last few days, it’s not the case.”