Pellegrini plays down spectre of Guardiola

The Chilean does not believe the fact that he will be replaced at the end of the season has affected Manchester City, who have lost three of four games since the announcement

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini refutes the suggestion that the impending arrival of Pep Guardiola has had an adverse affect on his side’s recent form.

City have lost three of the last four matches since it was confirmed at the start of February that Guardiola would replace Pellegrini in July, an announcement designed to put an end to months of speculation and uncertainty.

Pellegrini, who was criticised by a section of the club’s support and some prominent media pundits for his decision to play a youthful side at Chelsea at the weekend, heads into Wednesday’s Champions League last 16 clash with Dynamo Kiev under pressure to get a positive result both in Ukraine and in Sunday’s League Cup final.

But he says the prospect of Guardiola’s summer arrival has had no affect on him or his players.

“No, really that is not a problem,” he told reporters at Kiev’s Olympic Stadium. “All the players from the start, they are just thinking in this season that we have important challenges from now until the end of the year, and the best way is to be focused in every game.

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“Now it is Champions League, after that we have the final at Wembley on Sunday, and on Wednesday we will return to the Premier League. So it’s very easy because we are focused on having a season that works this year.”

Nevertheless, City are now out of the FA Cup following defeat at Chelsea and are six points off the Premier League pace thanks to back-to-back home defeats at the hands of title rivals Leicester City and Tottenham.

It means Pellegrini is in the midst of one of the most important periods of his City career to date, but he does not believe the heavy loss at Stamford Bridge adds any extra pressure as his side tries to stay alive in three competitions over the next eight days.

“No, I don’t think one game is linked with the other one,” he added. “Unfortunately for us, we had to make a difficult decision against Chelsea, but it was the only clear decision we had to make in this moment.

“If we had a completely fit squad, then a lot more experienced players could have played that game, but that was not the case. We had just 13 players, so I think that it is our intention to continue in all of the competitions, but we couldn’t do that, we had to take a chance, but this is absolutely different, we are now thinking of trying to improve because in the last two years we have arrived in the last 16 for the first time.

“Now we have won the group and we will try to continue, knowing that we have a difficult game here tomorrow.”

Javi Martinez back running after knee surgery

The Spaniard has made 18 appearances in all competitions this season and has now stepped up his comeback from his recent knee surgery as he bids to face Juventus in Germany

Javi Martinez has stepped up his Bayern Munich comeback efforts following knee surgery this month.

The former Athletic Bilbao star was ruled out for four weeks after an operation to correct a knee problem.

And on Tuesday Martinez, who did not travel with the rest of Pep Guardiola’s squad for the midweek Champions League clash with Juventus in Turin, completed a 20-minute running session with fitness coach Thomas Wilhelmi.

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“I am very happy,” he told the club’s official website. “I feel quite good again. I have no more pain.”

It is hoped Martinez will be available for the return leg at the Allianz Arena on March 16.

The Spain international has made 18 appearances in all competitions thus far this season.

Coman: I can exploit my potential better at Bayern

The teenage France international feels he is better suited to playing with the Germans, while he has pointed to the defence as the Serie A champions’ strength

Kingsley Coman believes he can “exploit his potential better” at Bayern Munich ahead of his return to Juventus on Tuesday.

Coman is still a Juve player but joined Bayern last summer on a two-year loan deal – with an option to make the move permanent in 2017 – and has thrived in the Bundesliga under Pep Guardiola.

The 19-year-old attacker was a bit-part figure at Juventus Stadium prior to his move to Bavaria and feels his introduction to regular first-team football has unlocked his potential.

He told the Bundesliga’s official website: “I really learned a lot [at Juve], especially in terms of tactics. On top of that, I got to train with world stars like [Carlos] Tevez, [Paul] Pogba and Gianluigi Buffon.

“But I’m happy to be at FC Bayern. The team’s attacking style suits me a lot better and I feel like I’m trusted a lot more than I was last season. I think I can exploit my potential better here.”

Bayern go into the first leg of their round-of-16 Champions League tie in Turin with a host of defensive absentees, including Jerome Boateng, Holger Badstuber and Javi Martinez.

It has not been an issue in the Bundesliga, in which they are unbeaten in seven games as they cruise towards another title, and Coman is optimistic a makeshift backline will also cope on Tuesday, adding: “We have to stay compact and be structured in our play.

“Against Augsburg, Joshua [Kimmich] and David [Alaba] did a very good job in defence, and against Darmstadt we were also very solid. We’ll need to help them out as much as we can, but I’m confident we can get a positive result in Turin.”

Juventus boast an array of attacking options with Paulo Dybala, Alvaro Morata, Paul Pogba and Mario Mandzukic at the disposal of coach Massimiliano Allegri but Coman thinks the Bianconeri’s real strength lies at the back.

He said: “I actually think their defence is their biggest strength. But they have huge potential in attack as well, and their midfield of Paul Pogba, Sami Khedira and Juan Cuadrado is also very unpredictable.”

Coquelin warns Barcelona: I'm ready for Iniesta

The 24-year-old says he is expecting a tough game up against the World Cup winner in the Champions League and has urged his team to play without fear if they are to progress

Arsenal midfielder Francis Coquelin is relishing the prospect of facing Andres Iniesta when his side meet Barcelona in the Champions League last-16.

Coquelin was rested for the FA Cup draw with Hull City on Saturday but is expected to return to the starting line-up against the European champions at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday.

The 24-year-old admitted it is a daunting task to play against Spain’s World Cup-winning midfielder but is excited to prove his worth against Luis Enrique’s side.

“He is a player I really like,” he told Arsenal Player. “Every player they have got is almost the best in every position. Playing Iniesta is going to be tough, but I’m ready for it and I’m looking forward to it.

“Any player wants to play players at this level and I’m ready for it if I’m involved. Everyone wants to play these types of games. We are really looking forward to it.”

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Barca are favourites to progress to the quarter-finals but Coquelin hopes the Gunners take some belief from their victory over Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich during the group stage.

“Barcelona are probably the best team in the world at the moment. We are obviously looking forward to it even if it is really tough. Hopefully we can do something against such a massive team,” he said.

“Everyone needs to be at 100 per cent and I don’t think we need to play with fear. We need to be ready and believe we can do something.

“If we have that belief, we can do great things. We showed that in the past against Bayern Munich a few months ago. Not many people said we could win this game and we showed we can compete with great teams as well.”

‘Bayern are favourites to win the Champions League’

Pep Guardiola offers the greatest threat to the Catalans’ European crown, according to a man who has tasted success at the highest level with the Camp Nou outfit


Former Barcelona full-back Jon Andoni Goikoetxea believes Bayern Munich will offer his side the greatest test in the Champions League as they both prepare to play the first leg of their last-16 ties.

Barcelona head to London to face Arsenal on Tuesday, while Bayern will tackle Juventus in Turin on the same night.

Goikoetxea achieved recognition playing for Johan Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team’ in the early 90s and made 36 appearances for Spain, winning the European Cup and four La Liga titles in the process.

Pep Guardiola was a team-mate of his, and he has backed the Catalan boss to taste more European success with Bayern.

“The greatest rival for Barcelona is Bayern Munich, even if Real Madrid can never be discounted,” he told Goal. “They always appear at the big moments and you never know with them.

“But I believe Bayern are Barca’s true rivals.”

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Asked to consider his former role and how it would be adapted to today’s Barcelona, he replied: “Today it is a very important role for Barcelona, who need solid players because of the way the team dominates the game. The full-backs need to open up the pitch to make it easier to retain possession. They could even make the difference against Arsenal.

“Dani Alves and Aleix Vidal move about a great deal on the pitch. Vidal can run as much as he wants. Sergi Roberto is a player who could play right-back in the Dream Team. He is very useful in home games, where there is less reliance on defensive solidarity.”