The final two ties of the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 begin Wednesday when Manchester City and Juventus head to Spain and France.
The focus for many will be on the former, as City continues to weather UEFA drama while its manager prepares for his fiercest foe as a player and manager.
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Pep Guardiola has managed against Real Madrid 17 times and boasts a 9-4-4 record between Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
The Catalan wizard has lost his last three versus Real, two with Bayern and once in his final El Clasico as Barca boss.
Even as Guardiola stresses preparation and plan, he knows there will be bounces and that both teams will have to cope with them.
“We have to be strong, have quality and need to have luck,” he said, via The Manchester Evening News. “At this stage, it’s important but we cannot control that. We can control what we can control and we will see. This competition, last season, against Liverpool, there are decisions. You have to overcome. You need incredible concentration in our game and game plan plus try to be a little lucky.”
Real Madrid living legend Sergio Ramos has earned the ire of Guardiola on plenty of occasions, one of the few things Liverpool and City fans have in common.
Ramos wouldn’t get drawn into rivalry talk, sying the stage somewhat negates the opponent.
“I have a lot of respect for him,” Ramos said via the club’s web site. “I think he’s a fantastic coach, with loads of experience, and his numbers speak for themselves. We’re motivated by the Champions League, regardless of the players or coaches who may have been rivals in the past. We’re up for the Champions League and our next task is to beat City. From a personal point of view, I’m just focused on making the next round.”
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Wednesday’s other match sees a club long linked with Guardiola, as Juventus will play the role of heavy favorites against Lyon.
Maurizio Sarri‘s side is to bidding to win what’s eluded all Juve bosses since Marcello Lippi beat Ajax in 1996. If they succeed, it will be by going down a different path than it’s traveled in recent years.
Here’s Leonardo Bonucci, via Football-Italia:
“What the coach asks of us now is basically the opposite of what the previous coach did,” Bonucci mused. “It was usually individual against individual, now it’s more about organized team movements. Obviously, you need to train consistently to get that down and playing every three days makes it difficult. But we started this journey well aware of the positives it could bring and the difficulties of getting there.”
Lyon has been maddeningly inconsistent this season, sitting seventh in the Ligue 1 table, but has the tools to surprise if Juve doesn’t bring its best. That starts in France on Wednesday.