It seems bizarre to suggest that in a contest between a club that has never won the European Cup or Champions League and another that has won 13 of them, it is the latter who will go into it as the underdog.

That is the case this week, though, with Manchester City and Real Madrid set to go head-to-head for a place in this season's Champions League final.

There is obviously reasoning behind this, with Pep Guardiola's side winning every other trophy available to them in recent years and breezing through their European campaign up to this point, a few scars from their quarter-final with Atletico Madrid aside.

Carlo Ancelotti's men have had a tougher road to get here, having to get past newly crowned French champions Paris Saint-Germain and reigning European champions Chelsea so far in the knockout stages.

They had to produce stirring comebacks in both ties, but City are an altogether different prospect, having finished above PSG in the group stage and beaten Chelsea home and away in the Premier League this season.

The English side have very few obvious weaknesses, but perhaps there is one area where Ancelotti can focus ahead of the first leg in Manchester.

Guardiola has recently been slightly overstating his lack of options, saying before the game with Watford at the weekend that City were suffering an injury crisis, before using 14 players that cost approximately £695million (€825m) (according to Transfermarkt.co.uk) to beat the Hornets 5-1.

However, one of his star performers this season has undoubtedly been Joao Cancelo, and the Portuguese full-back is suspended for the first clash with Madrid, while Kyle Walker remains a doubt with an ankle injury.

"They are doubts," the City manager said at a news conference on Monday when asked about Walker and John Stones. "They didn't train for the last week, 10 days... We will see how they feel and take a decision tomorrow."

This could lead to Guardiola having to get a bit creative at right-back, with Oleksandr Zinchenko presumably getting the nod on the left.

Most eyes will be on the likes of Karim Benzema and Luka Modric to lead the visitors, with both producing their usual big-game performances to make the difference against PSG and Chelsea, but the key at the Etihad Stadium may be another slightly unsung hero.

It's not that Vinicius Junior is not highly rated. This season he has exploded into one of the most potent attackers in world football, but this could be the perfect time for him to cement his name as a star of Real Madrid's present and future.

The Brazilian has always been considered a talent but could never quite put together the consistent run of form expected of regular starters in the famous all-white kit, until this season.

Vinicius has registered 31 goal involvements (17 goals, 14 assists) in 45 games in all competitions (42 starts), and has created 94 chances from open play.

Compare this to last season and you can see his significant improvement, managing just 10 goal involvements (six goals, four assists) in 49 appearances (31 starts) in 2020-21, with just 43 chances created from open play.

His numbers are now up there with the best in Europe. In terms of chances created from open play in the top five European leagues this season, only Bruno Fernandes (101) and Thomas Muller (100) have created more than his 94.

No-one has attempted more than his 303 dribbles this season, while only Adama Traore, Kylian Mbappe (both 137) and Allan Saint-Maximin (136) have completed more dribbles than his 127.

Vinicius is well established as a standout performer in LaLiga this season as well, with only Benzema (25), Enes Unal and Raul de Tomas (both 15) having scored more than his 14, while only Benzema (36) has more goal involvements than his 22.

Speaking of Benzema, his partnership with the 34-year-old marksman is developing into one of the most potent in the game, with the duo having provided the most goals for each other in the Champions League this season (six), ahead of Ajax's Antony and Sebastian Haller, and Bayern Munich's Leroy Sane and Muller (both four).

Vinicius is always a threat, as shown against Chelsea at the Santiago Bernabeu in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final. Blues right-back Reece James had been doing a good job of containing him, until one switch off in extra time allowed the 21-year-old down the left, and he played a perfect cross in for Benzema to score what proved to be the winning goal in the tie.

There is another Brazilian winger for City to potentially watch out for, though, in Rodrygo, who also played a crucial role in dumping out Chelsea by scoring moments after coming off the bench in the second leg.

While he has certainly not emerged like Vinicius just yet, the former Santos player has been making himself a more integral part of Ancelotti's squad, with 41 appearances in all competitions so far this season (19 starts), which is already more than the 33 (13 starts) he managed in 2020-21.

He has 12 goal involvements (four goals, eight assists) this season, up from nine last year (two goals, seven assists), and the youngster recently told Real Madrid's official website that he is looking forward to the test of City.

"They'll be tough opponents," he said. "We know the way they play and how good they are. If they've made it to the Champions League semi-finals, it means they're good, and it's down to the way City like to play, with a lot of possession.

"We're expecting a tough match and we have to make sure we keep playing like we have been and try to make it through."

Rodrygo might be under more pressure to perform given recent rumours that he may be one of the players who will have to make way for Mbappe should the club finally land the PSG star at the end of the season.

That being said, arguably Mbappe's best position is where Vinicius is currently doing his damage, which leads you to wonder if he too might be playing for his long-term future.

Of course, the Frenchman can play through the middle but there's another significant obstacle in the way there too in the form of his compatriot Benzema.

If Vinicius and Rodrygo want to make a case for maintaining their roles at the club, they have the perfect opportunity to do so by taking Madrid to a first Champions League final since 2018, and we will see just how ready for the challenge they are at the Etihad.

Real Madrid will relish the pressure that comes with their Champions League pedigree as they prepare to take on Manchester City in the first leg of their semi-final tie.

Los Blancos have had a tough route to the final four in Europe's premier competition, having to come from behind to beat both Paris Saint-Germain and last year's winners Chelsea.

Speaking at a news conference, Carlo Ancelotti was asked about comments from City boss Pep Guardiola that his team would be playing against history on Tuesday at the Etihad Stadium, with Madrid having won 13 European Cups or Champions League titles, six more than any other club.

"The history that Real Madrid has in this competition means a lot to us, more than to our rivals," Ancelotti said.

"This story, which has grown over all these years, helps players feel the weight of this shirt. It is positive, not negative.

"The pressure is similar, there is a lot of pressure. For Madrid, it is not usually a success to reach the semi-final, we want to reach the final, which is a success. It is the goal. If it arrives, Real Madrid usually have more options to win it because of our history."

Ancelotti was also asked about the defensive approach Atletico Madrid took against City in the quarter-finals and whether he intends to do similar, replying: "If you don't have a compact team against City you will lose, so you have to be compact. Defence will play a very important part in tomorrow's game."

The 62-year-old, who saw his Everton team get beat 5-0 on his last visit to the Etihad Stadium at the end of last season, will have to make a decision on the fitness of some players after training, with David Alaba and Casemiro possible absentees in Manchester.

"From what we saw in training yesterday. [Ferland] Mendy is fine. We have some doubts with Alaba and, above all, Casemiro," he added.

"We have much more confidence with Alaba than with Casemiro. If Casemiro doesn't play, he will be available for the [second leg]."

Madrid midfielder Federico Valverde also spoke to the media, and like Ancelotti, was asked about the weight of the shirt, with the Uruguay international saying: "When you put on the Real Madrid shirt you want to fight for everything until the last minute. It is part of the history of Madrid. You are always the favourite to win it all."

Dirk Kuyt believes Thiago Alcantara is the best midfielder in the world and has backed Liverpool to complete an unprecedented quadruple.

Thiago moved to Anfield from Bayern Munich for £20million (€23.8m) on a four-year deal in September 2020, but failed to live up to expectations during a first season at the club that was hampered by injuries and COVID-19.

Jurgen Klopp's side lost nine of the first 21 games in which the Spain international featured, including six home defeats in a row, while they were dumped out of the FA Cup and Champions League.

However, Thiago has come to the fore this season, with the Reds a point behind Premier League leaders Manchester City, through to the semi-finals of the Champions League and in the FA Cup final after already winning the EFL Cup.

The Merseyside club have won 14 of 15 top-flight games when Thiago has started this season, in comparison to 10 victories in 18 games without him in the line-up. They also score 2.9 goals on average when he is in the starting XI, as opposed to 2.3 without, and have conceded less (0.3 versus 1).

Thiago has kept Liverpool ticking with his magnificent range of passing, with no Reds player who has featured more than once in the league completing more passes (77.9) per 90 minutes or more in the opponents' half (46.9).

The former Bayern and Barcelona maestro's quality was again on show in the 2-0 win over Everton on Sunday as he made more successful passes (119) than Frank Lampard's entire side (95).

Former Liverpool forward Kuyt was quick to highlight the class of Thiago as he hailed the 31-year-old, but was unsure about the comparisons with Anfield hero Xabi Alonso.

"I think they are slightly different and I'm very happy for Thiago because in the beginning, he needed a bit of time, which is normal in life and in football is to just adapt to the system and to the team and to his new players," Kuyt told Stats Perform. 

"But he's playing such a great football and before he came he was one of the best midfielders in the world for me but now how he's playing on the level he's playing against top, top sides and performing week in week out.

"For me, he's the best midfielder out there at the minute."

Former Netherlands international Kuyt, who played 208 times for Liverpool between 2006 and 2012, also believes his former club have the credentials to win all four trophies.

"They've got the squad to do it. They've got the players and the manager to do it," he added.

"But it's just small details will decide whether they win the quadruple or maybe only the Premier League or the Champions League, but it will be amazing and very well deserved if Liverpool can achieve it all."

Klopp's team host Villarreal in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final tie on Wednesday.

Manchester City have full focus on winning a maiden Champions League title, Raheem Sterling explained ahead of Tuesday's meeting with Real Madrid.

City were beaten by Chelsea in last season's final, but remain in contention to end their European drought after overcoming Atletico Madrid in a tense quarter-final tie earlier this month.

Next up for the Premier League leaders is a semi-final clash with Los Blancos, against whom Pep Guardiola's side are unbeaten in their last three home Champions League meetings (one win, two draws).

Among City players, only Riyad Mahrez (six goals, one assist) has bettered Sterling's five Champions League goal contributions this season (three goals, two assists), and the England winger is highly motivated to make up for past failures in Europe.

"Every season we are a club looking to challenge for all the big trophies," Sterling told a media conference on Monday.

"The Champions League is the one we haven't got our hands on and is the one we are focused on.

"It's a special competition, it's a competition every young player wants to be in, and it was no different [for me] growing up. The music and atmosphere on the night is always special."

This will be the seventh meeting between the two teams in European competition, with each of the previous six coming in the Champions League. After failing to win the first four, City defeated Madrid home and away in a last-16 tie in 2019-20, albeit the second leg was played behind closed doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sterling, however, insisted those past meetings will count for nothing as Guardiola looks to become the first manager to eliminate Madrid in three separate Champions League knockout ties.

"We know – not just from this season but from previous seasons and history – how good they are in this competition," Sterling said.

"They have scored late goals but we have players who have been in high-pressure games and we know how to deal with it. I think come tomorrow, we will be fine. 

"What's happened previously doesn't really matter. All that's in the past. All we can control is making sure we are prepared right. It's a game over two legs, we can't focus on their previous games, we focus on tomorrow at the Etihad."

Sterling has netted 24 goals for City in the Champions League. Among English players, only Wayne Rooney (30) has scored more times in the competition's history.

It is a record Sterling has an eye on.

"When you make your debut, then it's the next thing: score your first goal, and you always look to be better and improve," he added.

"As a forward, to be scoring and making assists is a massive thing. It's where you get your confidence from. That's what I am out there for.

"It's a team full of competition. It's the competition that makes you thrive. When you are performing you want to keep scoring and making assists. Sometimes you have to understand there's a lot of great players in the team. 

"I'm playing and contributing a lot more [compared to last season]. I am in a good mood, good spirits. The team is in the semi-finals of the Champions League and fighting for the title. I couldn't ask for much more. I am in good spirits.

"If I can get the English record, that's what I will do."

Sterling has recorded 20 goal contributions for City in all competitions this season (14 goals, six assists).

Manchester City will relish the "incredible test" of facing Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-finals as Pep Guardiola reminded his players they require two "exceptional" performances to reach the final.

Having eliminated Madrid from the Champions League in the 2010-11 semi-finals as Barcelona boss and in a 2019-20 last-16 tie with City, Guardiola could become the first coach to have knocked Los Blancos out of the competition three times.

City have also remained undefeated in their previous three home Champions League matches against Real Madrid (one win, two draws) ahead of Tuesday's crucial first leg at the Etihad Stadium.

However, while City are still awaiting their first European title after falling at the final hurdle against Chelsea last season, Madrid are aiming to be crowned kings of Europe for a 14th time this term, but Guardiola says his team will relish the "incredible test" of facing the Spanish champions-elect.

"If we had to compete with their history, we wouldn't have any chance – they are better," he said. "Their history speaks for itself. We have the desire to compete against them. For us, playing against them is an incredible test and we want to try it. We'll have to suffer, stick together, and try to do as best as possible.

"It would be the same against Bayern or Barcelona. They are a team many times in this position [the latter stages]. In the last decade we were almost never here, and now we are, which is good.

"The history's there, we cannot change it, but tomorrow we play 11 against 11, with one ball moving, and the players will decide. Of course, we'll play against players that have been in this position many times, even beyond, reaching finals and winning.

"We can imagine or plan what is going to happen but it's a game of 11 against 11. The players will make the difference, I don't think Carlo [Ancelotti] or myself will win this semi-final."

This will be the seventh meeting between City and Real Madrid in European competition, with each of the previous six coming in the Champions League since 2012-13. After failing to win the first four (two draws, two losses), the Premier League champions won both legs in the last-16 against them in this competition in 2019-20.

Guardiola, however, said City's most recent encounter with Madrid will count for nothing, highlighting the "tight" nature of that tie and cautioning that City need two "exceptional" performances to progress.

However, the 51-year-old also said competing with Madrid in the final four was an "honour" and praised his team for making it this far, telling them to enjoy the moment.

"When we went through against Real Madrid, it was tight, two tight games. We went out in the quarter-finals in other seasons when it was tight too," Guardiola added. "I always had the feeling, with Barcelona, with Bayern Munich and then here, of how nice it is being there in the latter stages with the best teams in the world.

"Now we have to try to be ourselves. We'll need two exceptional games to reach the final, and hopefully we can do it. It's not necessary to say how much we respect Real Madrid and how good they are. It's an honour.

"We want to reach the final and win the final, but I could never underestimate what we have [already] done and the fact that we are here.

"Two times in a row being in the semi-finals is so good. Many teams are not here, good ones. One day we will not be here because it is so demanding, and you have to be so precise. So I told the players to enjoy this moment, I don't know what's going to happen, you never know if we will ever be back in this position."

Guardiola has faced Ancelotti on six previous occasions, winning four and losing two. However, all four of his victories came when Ancelotti was at Everton, with the Italian winning their two Champions League meetings, both in the 2013-14 semi-finals (Real Madrid's 5-0 aggregate win over Bayern Munich).

Manchester City and Liverpool will put their epic Premier League title race on hold for a few days, as they have the small matter of the Champions League semi-finals to think about.

City are hoping to go one better than last year after losing in the final to Chelsea. Standing in their way in the last four are Real Madrid, who eliminated the holders in the quarter-finals and boast a striker in Karim Benzema who has 12 goals in nine Champions League appearances this season.

Also facing LaLiga opposition are Liverpool, though Villarreal are unlikely to be a team they expected to meet at this stage of the competition.

Led by a knockout football specialist in Unai Emery, Villarreal cannot be taken lightly by the Reds, even with Emery's men historically struggling in games in England.

Ahead of the first legs, Stats Perform digs into some of the best Opta numbers around the two semi-final ties.

Manchester City v Real Madrid

Madrid might just be beginning to feel it is their year after progressing from remarkable knockout ties against Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea.

However, the omens are against them ahead of their first leg with City. Los Blancos haven't won on any of their previous three trips to face Manchester City in European competition (two draws, one defeat), with the most recent two coming in the knockout stages of the Champions League – a 0-0 draw in the 2015-16 semi-final first leg and a 2-1 loss in the 2019-20 last-16 second leg.

Pep Guardiola won't need any additional motivation as he looks to finally end his wait for a Champions League triumph with City, and the Barcelona legend can complete a historic hat-trick by overseeing an elimination of Madrid.

Indeed, Guardiola has eliminated Madrid from the knockout stages of the Champions League on two previous occasions, beating them 3-1 on aggregate in the 2010-11 semi-finals with Barcelona and 4-2 on aggregate in the 2019-20 last-16 with City. He is looking to become the first manager to eliminate Madrid from the competition on three occasions.

Madrid won away from home in the first leg at Chelsea in the quarter-finals, their only victory in their last six away games against English teams in the Champions League. No team has ever beaten two different English sides away from home in the knockout stages in a single Champions League campaign.

Champions League history between the two managers, however, is with Madrid's Carlo Ancelotti. He and Guardiola have faced each other six times, with the City boss claiming four wins to Ancelotti's two.

However, all four of Guardiola's wins came with City against Ancelotti's Everton, while the Italian saw his Madrid side beat Guardiola's Bayern Munich in both legs of the 2013-14 Champions League semi-finals, claiming a 5-0 aggregate triumph. Such a one-sided tie is unlikely this time around.

Liverpool v Villarreal

Villarreal are arguably the story of the 2021-22 Champions League, having sensationally knocked out Juventus and Bayern Munich to reach this stage.

However, games in England have historically been a problem for the Yellow Submarine. Since a 2-1 victory over Everton back in August 2005, Villarreal haven't managed to win any of their last eight away games in England in all competitions (three draws, five defeats), tasting defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford in the group stages earlier this season.

Despite Villarreal's well-organised defensive set-up, a high-scoring game could well be in the offing. During his managerial career, Villarreal boss Emery has faced Liverpool five times (once with Sevilla and four times with Arsenal), with those matches producing 26 goals (5.2 per game on average), and both teams netting in each.

Liverpool will be the clear favourites to do the majority of that goalscoring. Of the 12 sides to have reached the semi-finals of the European Cup/Champions League on at least five occasions, only Benfica (seven wins from eight) and Milan (10/12) have a higher ratio of progressing to the final than Liverpool (82%), who have managed to reach the final on nine of their previous 11 semi-final appearances.

Although Liverpool possess serious depth in attack with Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz playing significant roles, Mohamed Salah is still the obvious candidate to be their talisman.

Only in 2017-18 (10) has Salah scored more Champions League goals in a single campaign than the eight he has scored this season, moving his tally for the club onto 33. The Egyptian is just three behind both Didier Drogba (Chelsea) and Sergio Aguero (Man City) for the most goals netted in the competition for an English side (both 36).

Yet Emery's track record in Europe should have Liverpool fans nervous that he could be the man to dash their quadruple dreams.

The only European meeting between Emery and Liverpool was the 2016 Europa League final, in which Emery's Sevilla side beat Klopp's Reds 3-1. On top of that, since the start of the 2009-10 season, the year of the inaugural UEFA Europa League campaign, Emery has progressed from 84 per cent of his Europa League/Champions League knockout ties (31/37).

That is second-best ratio of any manager to have taken charge of at least 10 ties, after only Zinedine Zidane (14/16 – 88%).

Harry Kane insists Tottenham must win their five remaining Premier League games to qualify for the Champions League.

Antonio Conte's Spurs are embroiled in a fight for fourth with rivals Arsenal, who are two points ahead after defeating Manchester United 3-1 before Tottenham were held by Brentford later on Saturday.

That capped a damaging two-game spell for Conte's side, after losing to Brighton and Hove Albion at home last week.

Spurs also failed to register a single shot on target across the games against Brighton and Brentford, having previously scored in 14 consecutive halves of Premier League football.

The north London pair meet in a rearranged fixture in the penultimate week of the season, which could decide who finishes fourth, and Kane urged Tottenham to collect maximum points from their final five games.

Spurs face Leicester City and Liverpool before concluding their campaign against Burnley and Norwich City after the meeting with Mikel Arteta's Gunners on May 12.

"To only get one point from those two games [Brighton and Brentford] is disappointing," Kane told Standard Sport. "We're running out of games in terms of dropping points.

"There are five games left and we feel like we are pretty much going to have to win all of them to get that spot. We are more than capable of doing that, we believe in that and that is what we'll try and do.

"Is it still in our hands? Yeah. If we win the last five games we will be in the Champions League, so that is how we've got to look at it."

Kane – who is set to lead England at the World Cup later this year – also acknowledged the difficult task of facing quadruple-chasing Liverpool at Anfield, while Burnley are fighting relegation, although Norwich will likely be consigned to the Championship by the final day.

"We know those five games will be difficult, we go to Liverpool away as well which will be very tough," he added.

"As we've seen this season, we have dropped points against teams where we were probably expected to win and so have the others around us. It is by all means not done yet.

"We have to stay focused and keep working hard. We have a little gap now to prepare and work and hopefully, we can put in a good performance against Leicester [on Sunday].

"It has been a long season and we've definitely had ups and downs this season. I think we've done great to put ourselves in this position we're in now but it is about who can finish it off.

"That is the most important thing in football. Hopefully, it is us, we will work as hard as we can to make sure it is us and get that Champions League spot."

Virgil van Dijk insists Liverpool will not listen to suggestions they are favourites against Villarreal when the two sides meet in the Champions League semi-finals.

Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool defeated Benfica while Villarreal rallied past Bayern Munich to reach the final four and set up just the third meeting between the two teams in European competition.

The Reds will boast home advantage in the first leg on Wednesday, Villarreal having not managed victory in any of their past eight away games in England in all competitions since August 2005.

That last triumph on English soil was over fellow Merseysiders Everton, who Liverpool defeated 2-0 on Sunday to keep their Premier League title and quadruple hopes alive.

While Klopp's team have impressed on all fronts this season, winning the EFL Cup and reaching the FA Cup final as well, Van Dijk warned that Unai Emery's side will pose a threat.

"No, these are press debates that we prefer not to listen to," he told Spanish outlet EFE when asked if Liverpool were favourites. 

"We don't listen if they tell us that we're favourites or not. We will play on Wednesday as we try to play every game, that is, going out to try to win and, if we can, reach the final. 

"Villarreal are a great team, with great fans and a great coach. We really want these two games to start now.

"It will be very difficult because Villarreal is a very difficult team. Obviously, I have seen the games against Bayern Munich and they are a fantastic team defensively.

"The players work hard, have a lot of experience and, above all, play like a collective. In this round only the best remain. There is no easy rival in a semi-final.

"We are aware of the difficulty of these games and these rivals. The return there in Spain is going to be very hard and we expect it to be very intense."

Gerard Moreno has registered four assists in the Champions League this term, with only three players managing more. Indeed, since 2003-04, this is the joint-most by a Spanish player in their debut campaign in the competition, along with Gabi (2013-14) and Isaac Cuenca (2011-12).

Meanwhile, only Karim Benzema (15) has created more secondary chances – the pass played before the ball that sets up a shot or goal – than Dani Parejo (14), highlighting his influence in building Villarreal's attacks, and Van Dijk pinpointed the dangerous pair.

"[Their] central defenders are incredible. Raul Albiol and Pau Torres. They are very experienced and fantastic," the Netherlands international added. 

"Then in the centre of the pitch they have the calm and the touch of Parejo and up top Gerard Moreno [if he is fit] is very fast and can surprise you. 

"We already know a lot about [Arnaut] Danjuma from his time at Bournemouth. It's going to be a very complicated match-up, but this is the Champions League semi-final. We knew it wasn't going to be easy."

Along with the talent on the pitch, Klopp will also face off against Emery, who has progressed from 84 per cent of his Europa League and Champions League knockout ties (31/37) since the start of the 2009-10 season.

Only former Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane (14/16 – 88 per cent) boasts a better win rate in that period among managers to take charge of at least 10 games, and Klopp will be looking to make amends after Emery’s Sevilla beat Klopp’s Liverpool 3-1 in the 2016 Europa League final.

Real Madrid should be worried by the prospect of facing Manchester City in the Champions League semi-finals, according to former Etihad Stadium hero Carlos Tevez.

City beat Atletico Madrid 1-0 on aggregate to tee up the last-four meeting with Carlo Ancelotti's men, who edged past Chelsea to move one step away from the final.

Madrid visit Manchester on Tuesday for the first-leg clash, having failed to win on any of their previous three trips to face City in European competition (D2 L1).

The most recent two clashes came in the Champions League knockout stages, with Madrid drawing 0-0 in the 2015-16 semi-final first leg and losing 2-1 in the 2019-20 last-16 second leg, and Tevez believes Pep Guardiola's side are in a strong position.

Madrid have won the Champions League/European Cup on 13 occasions, while City are chasing their first such title, but the Premier League side cannot be considered underdogs given their current strength.

"Nowadays it is completely different. Today, Real Madrid are the one that have to be concerned about facing City," former Argentina international Tevez told City's official website.

"This is the advantage that City now have. Today, the opponents have to look at what City are capable to do.

"With the players we have now and the infrastructure City have been building during the years we can fight as equals against any team in Europe."

Tevez scored 58 times in 113 outings for City between 2009 and 2013 after swapping Manchester United for the blue side of the city, and he is delighted to see his old team competing at the highest level in Europe.

"It's a 50/50 tie," he said of the clash with Madrid. "I'm very happy to see City in this position, fighting against the greatest teams in Europe.

"It has not been possible to win the Champions League yet, but I think the most important thing is that after 10 years City are playing as equals against teams like Real Madrid and as it did on the last tie against Atletico."

Tevez said such progress was "very gratifying".

"We have gone from fighting in the middle of the league table to doing on an equal footing with the biggest [in Europe]," he said. "It is an achievement that we all must feel proud."

Guardiola will be aiming to become the first manager to eliminate Madrid from the Champions League on three occasions, having previously done so with Barcelona in the 2010-11 semi-finals and at City in 2019-20.

The excitement around Paris Saint-Germain ahead of the 2021-22 season was palpable.

In scenes reminiscent of the 'Galactico' era at Real Madrid, PSG appeared to be attempting to build their very own version of the Harlem Globetrotters.

The signing of right-back Achraf Hakimi from Inter early in the transfer window not only filled a problem position, but also brought in one the world's leading young defenders.

Nuno Mendes, albeit on loan, followed to fill the left-back slot later in the window, but between those signings, PSG made three sensational free transfers.

Gianluigi Donnarumma, Sergio Ramos and, to top it all off, Lionel Messi joined. Their joint presentation at the Parc des Princes was the main event ahead of a match against Strasbourg in August.

Funnily enough, Kylian Mbappe's name was booed as it was read out ahead of that match, amid speculation he could be joining Real Madrid.

That might well have been the case, but PSG turned down multiple Madrid advances. For all the glitter and glamour of their new signings, Mbappe was still seen as the key to their dream: the Champions League.

But that dream of conquering all in Europe was dashed in March. Ironically enough, by Madrid. It was Mbappe who put PSG 2-0 up in the tie before a Karim Benzema-inspired comeback sent Los Blancos into the quarter-finals.

Since then, PSG's monotonous stroll to another Ligue 1 title – albeit their first since 2020 – has continued and, inevitably, they claimed it on Saturday when they drew 1-1 with Lens.

Their fearsome front three has produced some special moments, yet last week's 2-1 Classique victory over Marseille, their nearest rivals – for lack of a better term – for the title, was played in front of a crowd lacking its most vociferous supporters, who had chosen to boycott the match in order to protest against the way the club has been run.

And though an eighth league title in 11 years of Qatar Sports Investment (QSI) ownership cannot be scoffed at, it is the least PSG should expect given the grandiose nature of their expensively assembled squad of superstars.

So, what next?

Mbappe Madrid-bound?

Mbappe is the first player to score more than 20 goals in the competition in three separate seasons before his 24th birthday since Herve Revelli, who managed it on four occasions between 1967 and 1970.

Before the Lens game, Mbappe's tally of 33 goals in all competitions was bettered by only Karim Benzema and Robert Lewandowski among players across Europe's top five leagues, with the France star having also outperformed his expected goals (29.5).

If this is to be his PSG swansong, then Mbappe is going out in style, if not on the biggest stage. From being jeered by his own supporters back in August, the tables turned when Mbappe was applauded in the wake of PSG's Champions League exit, with the boos reserved for Messi and Neymar instead.

PSG seem intent on trying to keep their talisman, but it really does appear to be to little avail, and it looks certain Mbappe will be lighting up LaLiga next season.

Messi to move on?

Yes, you did read that right. Messi – arguably the greatest player of all time – was booed by PSG supporters. Such is the fickle nature of football fandom, they were cheering his name by the time the next game came around, but at 34, does the Barcelona great really need to risk any damage to his reputation?

The goals have not come freely for Messi at PSG, managing only nine so far. However, he has contributed creatively with 13 assists, even if his expected assists (xA) of 9.86 suggests he has benefited from some above-standard finishing (which may be expected when you're supplying Mbappe, and Neymar too).

One has to wonder if he'll be sticking around to help the bid for an 11th league title in PSG's history next season.

 

Time up for Poch?

It is not just the future of star players up for debate. Mauricio Pochettino replaced Thomas Tuchel because the latter had failed to win the Champions League, only for Tuchel to go and win the tournament with Chelsea. Pochettino, meanwhile, saw his team lose in the semi-finals to Manchester City last season and then go down to Madrid in the last 16 this time around.

His record in Ligue 1 shows 39 wins from 55 matches, with the Argentine coach having overseen eight defeats and eight draws to register a win percentage of 70.9. Pochettino's team have scored 123 goals and conceded way less than half that amount (49).

Pochettino's 2.27 points per game ranks below his three predecessors, however; Tuchel took 2.37, as did Unai Emery, and Laurent Blanc recorded 2.35. Carlo Ancelotti (2.14) was the last PSG coach to have taken fewer points per game.

The former Tottenham boss might have been expecting a call from Manchester United, yet they have chosen Ajax's Erik ten Hag. Given the Champions League is the be-all and end-all for PSG, will Pochettino get another shot?

More, more, more?

Regardless of what happens with Mbappe, Pochettino or Messi, one thing is certain: PSG will be linked with the biggest stars on the market again.

Should Mbappe decide to pledge more of his career to PSG, will they go out and look to further bolster their chances of Champions League glory? If he leaves, how do they replace his goals?

Backing Messi and Neymar to come up with the difference should not be out of the question, yet it seems unlikely QSI would want a star player to leave and not replace him.

Paul Pogba is set to be available on a free, and it is not difficult to imagine the France star strutting his stuff in the blue of PSG. Georginio Wijnaldum's move has not been a success and the Dutchman's former club Newcastle United – now cash-rich of course – have been linked.

What of Keylor Navas? Donnarumma, despite some rash mistakes, seems to be the number one pick as goalkeeper now. Surely the Costa Rican will want to be a first choice elsewhere? Ramos has hardly been able to keep fit and PSG do lack a world-class partner for Marquinhos.

PSG may have to take a step back to finally move forward and become a dominant force in Europe, not just France. Perhaps sticking with Pochettino is the correct route, and they should forget about star signings for now and let the coach build something as he did in north London, using younger players and adding in the stardust with the talent that he already has at his disposal.

Based on the last decade, however, that does not seem likely.

Manchester United interim manager Ralf Rangnick conceded his team's hopes of Champions League qualification are over after Saturday's 3-1 loss to Arsenal.

A top-four finish already looked unlikely for the Red Devils after their 4-0 humiliation by Liverpool at Anfield in midweek, but their trip to the Emirates Stadium saw them go up against a direct rival.

While United's performance was undoubtedly an improvement on their horror show on Merseyside, Rangnick's men fell 2-0 behind in the first half thanks to an early Nuno Tavares goal and Bukayo Saka's penalty.

Cristiano Ronaldo pulled one back with his 100th Premier League goal before Bruno Fernandes hit the post from the spot – that was one of three occasions United were denied by the frame of the goal, as Diogo Dalot hit both the upright and crossbar.

Arsenal finished United off slightly against the run of play when Granit Xhaka blasted home from distance with 20 minutes to go.

Victory leaves the fourth-placed Gunners six points ahead of United, while the former also have a game in hand, and Rangnick was frank in his assessment of the situation.

Asked if the top four was out of reach for United, Rangnick told BT Sport: "Pretty sure. For me, even before the game it wasn't likely, but after today's result, the top four is gone, yes."

This was United's first game since Erik ten Hag was confirmed as the club's next permanent manager, news that dominated the build-up to the match from the Red Devils' perspective.

The consensus has been that Ten Hag faces a massive rebuild at Old Trafford, with Rangnick previously suggesting United might need to sign as many as 10 new players.

But Rangnick did not feel United's performance on Saturday highlighted any new issues, while the German – who has been extremely critical of his players at times lately – even praised the team's attitude.

"There is a lot of work for sure [for Ten Hag], we knew before the game," Rangnick continued.

"But we also showed what kind of football we can play, and although we had to deal with the two early goals, we still showed the attitudes.

"So there is nothing about the attitude of the players that we should fault today."

Nevertheless, Rangnick was frustrated by United's feeble defending once again, though he tempered that by questioning the validity of some VAR decisions.

Among them, Xhaka's strike was allowed to stand despite replays suggesting Eddie Nketiah was in David de Gea's line of sight and an offside position, while United were denied a first-half penalty despite Cedric Soares clearly blocking the ball with his hand while crawling.

"The only weak side of the performance was we didn't defend well in and around the box," he said. "The same happened when we conceded the second and third goals, but for me there were three very unlucky, let's put it that way, VAR decisions.

"For me the third goal of Arsenal was clearly offside, you can see it in slow-mo. David said to me he couldn't see the ball.

"The second goal of Cristiano was definitely not offside and there was another handball decision in the first half, so we were not very happy with those VAR decisions in the end. It was an improved performance but disappointing result."

Manchester United should not be expected to win trophies under Erik ten Hag immediately, says Gary Neville, warning it is a long job for the Dutchman with a mentally shot squad at Old Trafford.

The Ajax boss will take the reins from interim manager Ralf Rangnick at the end of the season, with the Red Devils arguably facing their lowest point in the post-Alex Ferguson era.

Questions over whether a squad low on confidence can challenge for Champions League football remains in the air, and several key players look destined for the door.

Hopes are high that Ten Hag can facilitate a fast turnaround - but speaking after his appointment, former defender Neville has warned there will be no quick fix at the Theatre of Dreams.

"What we're seeing at this current moment is unacceptable," Neville told Sky Sports News. "Ten Hag has got a big job to get the club back up to those minimum standards.

"They need to achieve [...] attitude, work ethic, belief, confidence and then hopefully you start to think about winning trophies.

"But honestly, I wouldn't be putting too much pressure on Ten Hag in the first one or two years to win a trophy at the club. It would be great if he did and he'd be overachieving, in my opinion.

"It will be: get into the top four, re-establish Man Utd in the Champions League, attract the players into the club who can play in the way he wants to play, and then get a system of belief.

"It took Jurgen Klopp four or five years to win a Premier League title. I wouldn't be putting pressure on Ten Hag to win a Premier League title. They're a million miles away from that.

"At the end of last season, I thought they were getting closer. But it's all collapsed and fallen to pieces. I don't know why that's happened. Ten Hag gets to pick up the pieces."

It has been a dramatic fall from grace for United, after their much-vaunted rebuild under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looked on the cusp of paying dividends last term.

But since their Europa League final defeat at the end of the 2021-22 campaign, they have delivered few statement performances, and Neville believes the losing feeling will be hard to shake.

"The players have completely lost their confidence and belief," he added. "They don't want to play football for Manchester United at this moment in time.

"That's not they don't want to play football for the club - they don't want to play football. They want the season to finish. You can see it in their eyes. They just want these games over.

"But the problem is there is no hiding place at this club. All the eyes are still going to be on them and they're going to have to try to turn up. They've got to find something from somewhere.

"I want to be careful in saying there's long-lasting damage but the mental impact of what's happening, that's going to have [a] long-lasting impact on some of those lads."

Ten Hag will succeed Rangnick, with the German expected to remain at the club on a consultancy basis - and Neville feels that it will be the latter who helps the Dutchman dictate transfer policy.

"Recruitment is the most important job in a football club," he said. "If you get the players wrong, you're struggling.

"Rangnick has had four or five months to assess that dressing room. I'm pretty certain they'll be having pretty direct conversations about who he needs to get rid of.

"It's on the tip of Rangnick's tongue in every single interview he does and you feel like he's going to go rogue at some point and start calling players out.

"He's doing it in groups, but there's no doubt Rangnick will be passing on that very specific information about who Ten Hag needs to get rid of - and I'm sure Ten Hag will listen and buy into that."

Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus could now face sanctions from UEFA after precautionary measures against such punishments were lifted by a Madrid court.

Madrid, Barca and Juve are the three clubs still committed to the European Super League project, which was launched last year and sought to break away from UEFA's Champions League.

Nine other clubs, including six from the Premier League, backed out of the competition soon after it was announced amid fan pressure.

UEFA was initially prevented from sanctioning those involved, but these measures have now been lifted by judge Sofia Gil Garcia of Madrid's Mercantile Court No. 17.

"It is up to these disciplinary bodies and to the independent arbitrators of the CAS to decide on the possible sanctions against the clubs," the court said via a statement reported in French publication L'Equipe.

A UEFA spokesperson said: "UEFA has today received the order of the Madrid court, lifting the precautionary measures in their entirety.

"UEFA welcomes this decision and is considering its implications. UEFA will not be making any further comment for the time being."

UEFA has backed the 'Win It On the Pitch' campaign organised by Football Supporters Europe over regulation of the game by the European Union.

Key powerbrokers from the sport's continental governing body met with representatives from FSE, the democratic voice of European football fans, on Thursday.

The latter is calling for the EU to protect the principles of the European sports model against American-style franchising, a year on from the failed European Super League.

The Win it On the Pitch campaign aims to safeguard the sport against potential ring-fencing and future breakaway attempts.

"Football belongs to its fans and they played a critical role in stopping last year’s shameless attempt by a few wealthy clubs to take it away," UEFA general secretary Theodore Theodoridis said.

"We applaud FSE for this European Citizens’ Initiative, which we fully encourage and support.

"The European sport model is based on popular principles such as sporting merit, promotion and relegation, and financial solidarity.

"Its principles must be protected at EU-level to ensure the sustainability of clubs, leagues, competitions, and communities."

FSE executive director Ronan Evain echoed Theodoridis' words, and thanked UEFA for their support with the campaign.

"The Super League plot may have failed, but the fight is far from over," he added.

"Win It On The Pitch is a simple way for ordinary citizens to demand the EU take action to secure the future of our most popular and played sport.

"It is more important than ever for all stakeholders to come together to protect clubs and competitions across the continent, as well as the principles on which our game should be based."

Barcelona coach Xavi was left seething after his side missed a "golden opportunity" to move clear in second place in LaLiga.

Having been eliminated from the Europa League on home soil by Eintracht Frankfurt last Thursday, Barca lost consecutive games at Camp Nou for the first time since April 2003 as lowly Cadiz condemned them to a 1-0 defeat.

Lucas Perez's second-half winner marked the 32nd goal Barca have conceded in 31 league games this season, their worst tally at this stage of a season since the 2012-13 campaign (33).

Barca's 15-match unbeaten run in the league had seen them harbour hopes of a title challenge, but they now have just seven games left to catch Real Madrid, who are 15 points clear.

Indeed, Barca's main focus will now realistically be on the teams below them. Atletico Madrid and Sevilla sit on 60 points, like the Blaugrana, but Real Betis (57) and Real Sociedad (55) are not far behind.

"We're p***** off," Xavi told reporters. "We have lost a golden opportunity to distance ourselves from the fight for the Champions League and to continue in the fight for the title. We have almost said goodbye to LaLiga. 

"We are Barca and we must do more. The team should have shown more desire and enthusiasm. It's not about attitude because the players want it, but we need a competitive character.

"They [Cadiz] defended the play as if it were the last, and we have to match that.

"We have to be humble and think that we haven't done anything. To be in the Champions League next year, we have to play with more faith, determination and drive. We have to grit our teeth because we've got a lot at stake."

Despite overseeing a dramatic upturn in fortunes since taking charge, Xavi said the defeat showed there was much work required for Barca to return to the level of his playing days.

"When you win 4-0 at the Bernabeu it's logical that you say 'we're back', but now we're also making mistakes," he added.

"We must be self-critical, and we must react to ensure the goal of Champions League [qualification]. 

"We have to work for the great Barca to come back. We beat Madrid and Sevilla with two great games with the same team and the same staff. If we've done it [before], we can do it again."

The game was played in a muted atmosphere after a prominent group of Blaugrana fans boycotted in protest at the club's handling of last week's loss to Frankfurt, where an estimated 30,000 away fans got tickets to the match.

"We need the people," Xavi said. "The other day it affected us a lot, the fans have been extraordinary. 

"Hopefully the next game they will be with us. Barcelona must be united and at least go to the Champions League next year. It's a shame they didn't come. We need everyone. It's important that in the next game at home the three points stay here."

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