Champions League last 16, 1st leg
Man City v Monaco
Tonight: Etihad Stadium, 7.45pm
Referee: Antonio Mateu Lahoz (Spain)
TV: TV3, BT Sport 2
Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim and defender Fabinho both played down talk of imminent moves to England prior to tonight’s Champions League clash against Manchester City.
Monaco’s superb form this season has seen a number of their personnel linked with big-money switches to the Premier League.
Jardim, who has guided the principality side to the top of Ligue 1, was recently mentioned as a potential candidate to succeed Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.
Fabinho, a full-back who can also play as a defensive midfielder, is reportedly of interest to City, the Gunners and Manchester United.
But Portuguese boss Jardim said: “I think that all managers and players want to coach and play at the highest level and today the Premier League is perhaps the biggest national league in Europe and everyone would like to have the opportunity to coach here.
“But at the moment we are at Monaco and we are a big club and we have a future to forge, and that is why we give 100% to Monaco.”
Jardim is not surprised Fabinho has attracted interest from elsewhere and said he rates the 23-year-old as “one of the best players in his position in Europe”.
The player himself, speaking alongside Jardim at a press conference at the Etihad Stadium to preview tonight’s last-16 first leg against City, suggested a move could be possible — but not yet.
He said: “I know my name was linked with more than one English club but I am happy at Monaco at the moment. I have a contract until 2021, but the Premier League is a league that interests me and maybe one day I will come and play here.”
On reports City were of particular interest to him, he said: “It was my dad who said that, and he spoke about clubs that I might have been interested in in the past.
“It’s not topical, I don’t think about it at the moment. I am very much focused on Monaco and (the City) game.”
Pep Guardiola has said how impressed he has been with Monaco’s form this season, but Fabinho is wary of any possible mind games in the City’s manager’s comments.
He said: “I wouldn’t say we are the favourites. I can imagine why he would want to convey that message, but we have seen what they are capable of and it will not be easy to stop them.
“But, with our strength and qualities, we will be looking to put on a good performance.
“We are in good shape, physically, and we are going to do our utmost to win the game.”
Guardiola, meanwhile, is relishing the intensity of the Champions League spotlight and hopes his City players can do the same.
Guardiola won the competition twice with Barcelona and took Bayern Munich to three successive semi-finals, thriving on the knife-edge pressure it brings along the way.
Guardiola said: “A lot of big clubs are not here, they are not living that situation. We are lucky guys.
“The recent history is quite good but in the long history, Manchester City were not here for a long time. I would like to convince the players to enjoy that moment. It is beautiful.
“All of Europe will watch us, to analyse us, to kill us if we don’t win or say how good we are if we do win. That is the huge experience. It is beautiful to me.
“It is one of the most beautiful competitions to play. Maybe not the most important, but the most beautiful.”
Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone has urged his players to match the “intensity” of Bayer Leverkusen in tonight’s Champions League last-16 clash.
Simeone’s side head to the BayArena for the first leg in high spirits having not tasted defeat in LaLiga since the turn of the year.
However, despite an eight-game unbeaten run in the league, Los Rojiblancos are fourth and were knocked out of the Copa del Rey earlier this month by Barcelona.
Atletico’s hopes of silverware this term realistically lie in Europe but Simeone has warned his troops not to be complacent in Germany.
Leverkusen have never won a last-16 knockout game in the competition and come into the tie placed a modest eighth in the Bundesliga.
Yet Roger Schmidt’s outfit have hit form at the right moment, registering back-to-back wins for the first time since November.
“We are going to find a team that displays everything their coach asks for: Heart, enthusiasm and a lot of intensity,” Simeone said.
“Surely it is the most intense rivals we have faced in the Champions League. Talent is important, but the heart has much more (of a) place in football.”
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