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.

Riyad Mahrez could reportedly be sold by Manchester City in the upcoming transfer window, and some of the world's biggest clubs are said to be targeting the Algerian.

Mahrez, 31, has won the Premier League on three occasions, including once with Leicester City, and will make it four this season if Pep Guardiola's team can hold on.

After 38 Premier League goals for Mahrez over four campaigns with City, he could be facing a new challenge next season.


TOP STORY – MAHREZ MOVE TO MAKE WAY FOR HAALAND

Fichajes.net is reporting that Mahrez is one of the players City could part ways with to help fund the purchase of Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland.

The report names Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus as the three most likely landing spots.

Mahrez has scored 23 goals and dished out eight assists in 42 appearances across all club competitions this season.


ROUND-UP

Real Madrid are said to be closing in on a deal to sign Chelsea centre-back Antonio Rudiger on a free transfer. The Guardian is reporting his contract will be worth at least £200,000 per week.

– The Telegraph is reporting Manchester City are interested in making a move for West Ham's Declan Rice.

– According to Marca, Real Madrid remain favourites to land Kylian Mbappe when he is expected to leave Paris Saint-Germain in the next transfer window, but he will not make an official announcement until after the last game of his Ligue 1 season on May 21.

– Sky Sports News is reporting that Lionel Messi will remain at Paris Saint-Germain for at least one more season but that the French giants could consider letting Neymar move on.

– Barcelona would be willing to sell Frenkie de Jong for £58million, with Manchester United reportedly interested in bringing in the Dutch midfielder, according to El Chiringuito.

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."

Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus said he is a "big fan" of compatriot Vinicius Junior ahead of facing the Real Madrid winger in Tuesday's Champions League semi-final first leg.

Jesus, who became the first Brazilian to score four goals in a Premier League match during City's 5-1 demolition of struggling Watford on Saturday, is aiming to help Pep Guardiola's men to a first Champions League title after losing last season's final to Chelsea.

Jesus' international team-mate Vinicius has recorded 31 goal involvements for Real Madrid in all competitions this season (17 goals, 14 assists), as Carlo Ancelotti's men bid for a 14th European title.

Recalling City's last Champions League tie with Madrid in the 2019-20 last 16, in which he netted in both legs of a 4-2 aggregate triumph, Jesus said the emergence of players like Vinicius meant Tuesday's encounter represented a different prospect.

"It was very difficult and tense, as always when you play at the Bernabeu against Real Madrid," Jesus told Marca of City's trip to Madrid in March 2020. "We won, but they could have. I was happy to help my team, but now it will be different, with other players. 

"Vinicius will be playing, who was playing then but is now much more mature. He is the same player, but is now more mature. 

"I am a big fan of his, I hope he can continue to get better and better in the future. I wish him good luck, but not against me!

"It is difficult because you arrive as a young player at a club of Real Madrid's size, you play, you have opportunities, and it doesn't go well because of a lack of experience, of maturity. 

"Criticism comes and goes. I am happy for him, because of the quality he has. Everyone knew that he was as good as this. Football is like that, with highs and low. I hope that he keeps this level up to be happy in his football."

Vinicius has made the most 10-yard progressive carries of any player in the Champions League this season (62), and no player in the competition has been generated a shot following a carry (moving five or more metres with the ball) more often than the 21-year-old (21 – 10 shots, 11 chances created).

 

City are undefeated in their last three home Champions League matches against Los Blancos, winning one and drawing two, and City boss Guardiola could become the first manager to eliminate the Spanish giants from three separate Champions League knockout ties.

Jesus, meanwhile, has been linked with a move away from the Premier League leaders after making just 17 league starts for Guardiola's men this season. However, the striker says he will not make any decisions on his future until the season is over, stressing the "need" for City to win a first European crown.

"I have been here for five years and a bit. When I arrived I was very young, only 19, and both the club and the players have won many trophies," he added. 

"We need to win the Champions League, as we were so close last year and this year we are in the semi-finals. 

"I am focused on the rest of the season, on these games, which are all decisive. Then we will see what happens in terms of renewing my contract or ending a cycle."

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%).

A 10th Ligue 1 title for Paris Saint-Germain has evidently left a bitter-sweet taste.

Their devastating elimination at the hands of Real Madrid in the Champions League made for a fourth last-16 exit in the past six seasons, following final and semi-final defeats to Bayern Munich and Manchester City respectively.

Amid protests that culminated in fans walking out of the Parc des Princes as PSG claimed the domestic title at the weekend, the remedy reportedly appears to be a new coach.


TOP STORY – CONTE TO REPLACE POCHETTINO AT PSG

Paris Saint-Germain appear set to dismiss Mauricio Pochettino as their head coach and have lined up Antonio Conte as his replacement, Le Parisien is reporting.

Pochettino's exit is reportedly imminent and all that is left for the club is to come to a financial settlement, with another season left on the contracts of Pochettino and his staff.

PSG's preferred choice as Pochettino's replacement is apparently Zinedine Zidane, but he appears more intent to replace Didier Deschamps as France's national team coach if he leaves after the World Cup.

Tottenham boss Conte would be brought in on a two-year deal. 


ROUND-UP

Lucas Paqueta has told Lyon head coach Peter Bosz he will let the club know of his desire to stay or leave at season's end, according to the Chronicle.

- Manchester City's Gabriel Jesus is also yet to commit to his future beyond the end of this season, the Guardian reports.

Real Betis are keen to sign Real Madrid's Isco, who will be leaving at the end of the season, per Marca.

- Mundo Deportivo is reporting Barcelona are considering a bid for Ajax centre-back Lisandro Martinez.

Barcelona suffered a shock 1-0 home defeat to Rayo Vallecano that means Real Madrid can step up plans for a title party.

This was a third consecutive home loss for the Catalans, only the second time that Barcelona have suffered such a fate in their history, with Alvaro Garcia's early strike the difference between the teams.

It means Real Madrid's lead at the top is 15 points with five games remaining, putting Los Blancos on the brink of being crowned champions.

That will be confirmed if Carlo Ancelotti's team avoid defeat to Espanyol next Saturday, while Xavi's Barcelona have slackened their grip on second place with this setback.

Vallecano, sitting 14th in LaLiga before their arrival at Camp Nou, snatched a seventh-minute lead when Garcia made a smart run into space to meet a chipped pass from Isi Palazon and fired sharply into the bottom right corner.

Jordi Alba curled a shot that flicked wide off the post as Barcelona chased an equaliser, then Gavi wanted a penalty when he slumped to the turf under a nothing challenge from Santiago Comesana. Referee Isidro Diaz de Mera Escuderos was unimpressed and booked coach Xavi for taking his complaints too far.

A clever floated shot from Gavi hit the crossbar shortly before half-time, and although Ferran Torres lobbed the ball into the net from the rebound, he had been in an offside position.

Jordi Alba had a shot deflect over as Barcelona pushed early in the second half, but the home side were horribly flat, with Ferran Torres and Frenkie de Jong replaced by Memphis Depay and Nico Gonzalez as Xavi looked to inject some energy.

Depay had a close-range shot blocked by Nikola Maras, and the Dutch striker saw a stinging 20-yard strike punched over the bar by Stole Dimitrievski, but the equaliser would not come.

 

What does it mean? Barca on the slide

Barcelona had won their last seven home games against Rayo Vallecano in LaLiga, and were seeking eight in a row against them for the first time in the competition, but this was poor from them.

This is a bad time of the season to get stuck in a rut, and Camp Nou defeats to Cadiz in LaLiga and Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League have been followed by another aberration. Barcelona led the shot count 17-3 here, but despite playing 14 minutes of second-half stoppage time, they could not put produce a clinical finish.


New boys slay Camp Nou

Vallecano, who came up through the Segunda Division play-offs last term, have become the fourth promoted team to win both of their games against Barcelona in a LaLiga campaign, and the first since UD Salamanca in 1997-98. They have also improved their record when leading at half-time in LaLiga this season to W8, D1, L0.

 

Famous night for Iraola

After his team's 1-0 win at home in October, Andoni Iraola has become the first head coach to beat Barcelona home and away in his first season in LaLiga since Quique Hernandez for Hercules in the 1996-97 campaign.

The home win in the autumn was a result that was followed by Barcelona sacking Ronald Koeman, leading to Xavi's appointment.

 

What's next?

Barcelona will have home advantage against next Sunday when Real Mallorca visit Camp Nou. Vallecano are also back on duty next Sunday, hosting Real Sociedad.

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.

Kylian Mbappe could be at Real Madrid next season, but Paris Saint-Germain sporting director Leonardo jokingly warned they may be feeling overconfident. 

PSG clinched their 10th Ligue 1 title in bizarre circumstances against Lens on Saturday, as fans made their way out of the stands in the 75th minute in protest at the club's management.

The game finished in a 1-1 draw with 10-man Lens equalising through Corentin Jean in the 88th minute at the Parc des Princes, and the final whistle was met with boos in some sections.

Mbappe has been involved in 51 goals (33 scored, 18 assisted) in 42 appearances in all competitions for PSG this season, more than double the haul of Lionel Messi (22 – nine goals, 13 assists) and almost three times as many as Neymar (18 – 11 goals, seven assists). 

Only Robert Lewandowski (53 – 48 goals, five assists) and Karim Benzema (52 – 39 goals, 13 assists) have managed more in all competitions across the top five European leagues.

Mbappe can leave PSG on a free transfer after his contract expires in June, but the club are understandably keen to tie him down to a renewal with Madrid circling. 

The World Cup-winning attacker insists his mind is not yet made up, and Leonardo playfully reminded Madrid that they have yet to prise Mbappe away from the club, despite their long-term interest. 

"In Madrid, they have been sure for the past three years that Kylian will end up at Real. Maybe they are a bit too sure about that," Leonardo told Sky Sport Italia. 

"When Kylian says he hasn't decided yet, I believe him. We have an upfront relationship. He is checking everything to make the best decision. 

"He knows we want him here and he is everyone's protege. Today, he is the best player in the world. He will make his decision together with us – the relationship is very good." 

He added to Canal+: "Kylian is still thinking. There's a possibility he'll stay. With or without him next season, it changes everything." 

Arsenal's project under Mikel Arteta has taken positive steps this season, but the need for a striker remains.

With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette seemingly on the way out at the end of the season, that need could become even more pertinent.

If the Gunners achieve qualification for the Champions League however, Tammy Abraham's return to the Premier League could be on the cards.


TOP STORY – ARSENAL TO GO AFTER ABRAHAM

Arsenal are showing renewed interest in Tammy Abraham and are looking to bring him to the Emirates Stadium if they qualify for the Champions League, according to Star Sunday.

Mikel Arteta was very keen to sign the 24-year-old Abraham at the start of the season, before he left for Roma, who were able to guarantee a healthy salary and first-team football along with the chance to join Jose Mourinho.

Abraham has enjoyed a stellar first season in Serie A, contributing 15 goals and four assists in 33 league appearances.

While Chelsea can activate a buy-back clause at the end of the season, the Gunners would be willing to offer £50million (€59.5m) to secure Abraham's transfer.  


ROUND-UP

- West Ham have joined the race for Torino and Italy striker Andrea Belotti, whose contract expires at the end of the season, according to Fichajes.

- Real Madrid are in best position to sign German international Antonio Rudiger, who will leave Chelsea at the end of the season, Goal reports.

- Frenkie de Jong has been linked with a move to Manchester United, where he would reunite with incoming coach Erik ten Hag, per the Manchester Evening News.

- Ten Hag is also reportedly keen on signing Christian Eriksen, whose six-month deal with Brentford expires at the end of the season, according to Star Sunday.

Rumours surrounding Kylian Mbappe's future are likely to rumble on for a couple more months yet.

For a long time, it was reported the France World Cup winner was a shoo-in to join LaLiga giants Real Madrid.

But more recently there have been rumblings he could be swayed to remain at Paris Saint-Germain, and a bumper new contract offer may be on the table.


TOP STORY – PSG READY TO OFFER MBAPPE HUGE MONEY TO HOLD OFF MADRID

Mbappe will be the hottest free agent on the market should he decide not to renew with PSG and a move to the Spanish capital still cannot be ruled out.

However, Goal reports his switch to the Santiago Bernabeu has hit a snag due to a dispute over the 23-year-old's image rights.

Meanwhile, PSG are reportedly ready to offer Mbappe an eye-watering €50million annual salary, a deal that would make him the highest paid player at the Parc des Princes, should he choose to remain in the French capital.


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- Mauricio Pochettino may not be headed to Old Trafford to become Manchester United boss, but his PSG future still remains unclear. Le Parisien says Antonio Conte is tempted to leave Tottenham for the French capital.

- Declan Rice has put Manchester United and Chelsea on red alert after turning down a third contract offer from West Ham, which the Guardian said was worth £200,000 a week.

- Arsenal's continuing search for a striker has apparently led to interest in Manchester City forward Gabriel Jesus. Edu, the Gunners' technical director, has been speaking to the Brazil star's representatives, according to the Athletic.

- Newcastle United are on the hunt for close-season reinforcements. Foot Mercato say Bayer Leverkusen winger Moussa Diaby and Monaco defender Benoit Badiashile are both on the Magpies' radar.

Manchester United are preparing for a complete overhaul of the playing group in the upcoming transfer window as incoming manager Erik ten Hag begins to build things his way.

Ten Hag, who is arriving from Ajax, has reportedly already seen enough of a number of regular contributors at United, and they will make way for players he believes can get the club back to their former glory.

Forward, midfielders and defenders are all on the chopping block, with very few positions expected to be safe heading into 2022-23.

 

TOP STORY – TEN HAG TO SWING THE AXE AT UNITED

The Sun is reporting United "could sell" Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones and Alex Telles at the next opportunity.

Meanwhile, Sky Sports claims United's needs include a new centre-back, two central midfielders, a winger and a striker in what could shape up as a complete rebuild.

One player who will reportedly get a chance to prove his worth at Old Trafford once he returns from loan is Donny van de Beek, who played for Ten Hag at Ajax.

West Ham's Declan Rice is also high on the Dutchman's wishlist, per The Guardian, while the Telegraph claims Benfica striker Darwin Nunez is a key target.

 

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– Sky Sports Germany is reporting RB Leipzig have no interest in parting ways with Christopher Nkunku next season, despite interest from United and Arsenal.

– According to Goal, Milan are keen to sign Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku, who spent two seasons at Inter before rejoining Chelsea this season.

Real Madrid are monitoring Newcastle United midfielder Bruno Guimaraes, per AS.

Manchester City and Newcastle United are both interested in 18-year-old Rangers academy midfielder Alex Lowry, according to Football Insider.

– Todofichajes reports that Christian Eriksen has agreed to return to Tottenham when his contract with Brentford expires at the end of this season.

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."

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