The Champions League round of 16 draw has thrown up some mouth-watering ties — or, if you’re the Spanish media, one particularly “morbid clash.”
Manchester City’s tie against Real Madrid is arguably the most enthralling matchup and once again pits coach Pep Guardiola against his bitter rival.
Given the bad blood between Guardiola and Real Madrid from his at Barcelona, Spanish newspaper Marca says the tie will appeal to those with a morbid curiosity; you know there will be ugly scenes, but you can’t help but watch.
In recent times, the ugliest El Clasico got was in August 2011 when then Real coach Jose Mourinho jabbed a finger into the eye of Guardiola’s assistant, Tito Vilanova, at the end of the Spanish Super Cup second leg.
“The draw was difficult for Zinedine Zidane’s team, which will have to face Guardiola’s City with the second leg on English soil. A morbid clash that will once again take Pep to the Bernabeu,” wrote Marca.
Though Manchester City has never won the Champions League, the bookmakers have Guardiola’s side as favorite to lift the trophy this season.
The club’s best showing in the competition was a semifinal appearance under Manuel Pellegrini in 2016.
Under Guardiola, City has never advanced past the quarterfinals and the Catalan coach knows the pressure is on to deliver the title owner Abu Dhabi royal Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al- Nahyan craves the most.
But this certainly isn’t the draw Real Madrid would have been hoping for either. Zidane’s side has endured its own mixed fortunes this season, notably the shellacking it was given by Paris Saint-Germain in its opening group stage game.
Guardiola has faced Real on 17 occasions as a coach, more than any other team, and City will be buoyed by his winning record against Los Blancos — played 14, won nine, drawn four, lost four.
Manchester City Director of Football Txiki Begiristain also knows Real well from his time as both a player and director at Barcelona and was feeling optimistic about his team’s chances.
“It’s a difficult one of course, they’ve won this competition 13 times so they are the best — so we have to try to beat them,” Begiristain told BT Sport after the draw. “If you want to be the best you have to beat them.
“It’s always a pleasure to go to play Real Madrid and also to play in a big stadium like the Berrnabeu, we are happy to go there. We know them well but they know what we are doing, they know our manager, our team.”
‘The team nobody wanted to face’
Marca were no more upbeat about Atletico Madrid’s draw in the last 16 after Diego Simeone’s side was paired with defending champion Liverpool, as The Reds return to the site of last season’s Champions League triumph at the Wanda Metropolitano.
It is certainly one of the trickier ties Jurgen Klopp’s side could have expected in the last 16, though Atletico has struggled both domestically and in Europe this season.
While its defense remains almost as tight as ever, goals have been particularly hard to come by since Antoine Griezmann’s departure in the summer.
Only five teams in La Liga — five of the current bottom six — have a worse goalscoring record than Simeone’s side.
“Atletico got the big one in the last 16 draw,” Marca says. “The champion from last season and the team nobody wanted to face after watching exhibitions like that at Anfield against Barcelona, a match that still keeps Culés awake at night,” added the Spanish paper, referring to Liverpool’s 4-0 win over Barca in the second-leg semifinal at Anfield, which secured a 4-3 aggregate victory.
“If there is one thing Klopp’s team has no rival in, it’s belief.”
Rival newspaper Sport says this was one of the worst scenarios for Atletico boss Simeone, who is enduring a turbulent season so far as his side now face a “fearsome” Liverpool.
“It has not been a simple season for the team or for ‘Cholo’ Simeone, who has even been questioned due to the serious problems of his Atleti,” the paper says.
“The Madrid team faces a very tough round against probably the most in-form team in Europe. Without a doubt, Simeone’s men have had the worst luck of the draw.”
Draw in full