Pep Guardiola has backed Raheem Sterling after the Manchester City forward was pictured with a Real Madrid shirt in an interview with a Spanish newspaper.

The England international has been linked with a move to the Santiago Bernabeu and told AS he was happy at City but "always open to challenges".

City head coach Guardiola was asked about Sterling’s interview in a news conference on Friday, ahead of the Premier League match against Leicester City.

"Players are free to talk and say what they believe, what they think," Guardiola said. "We are not here to tell them what they have to say.

"It's normal if you make an interview with the Madrid media that he speaks about Madrid."

Sterling posed with City and Madrid shirts ahead of the Champions League last-16 first leg between the teams next Wednesday, which comes at a turbulent time for the English club.

UEFA has handed the reigning Premier League champions a two-season ban from European competition and a €30million fine after an investigation found City broke financial fair play regulations.

City have vowed to fight the verdict at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), with chief executive Ferran Soriano saying it is "simply not true" that the club breached the rules.

But the issue looks set to dominate discussion around City for the foreseeable future, to the obvious frustration of Guardiola.

The former Barcelona boss told reporters his team would give 100 per cent until the end of the season as he led a fresh defence of their achievements.

"I'm completely sure about the commitment of our players. They have shown it for many, many years, so nothing changes in this terms," Guardiola said.

"At the end of this season nobody knows what is going to happen.

"With calm we're going to decide to do what we want, what the players want, but right now, the commitment for the last three months together in every single game, I don't have any doubts we will be incredibly well, as we always have been."

Asked about what some people may think of City in the wake of the UEFA punishment, Guardiola said: "I cannot change what people think. I know how hard we work. I'm so proud of what we have done in these years all together.

"So I have a different opinion. All that we won in these seasons, nobody helped us from outside, so we did an incredible job, day by day, game by game.

"This is not finished, it's not over, we appeal as a club and we will see what happens in the end."

Raheem Sterling has described Real Madrid as "a fantastic club" amid speculation over his Manchester City future.

The LaLiga giants have been linked with a move for the 25-year-old over the past two seasons, but City's looming ban from Europe has fuelled those rumours further.

Sterling insists he is happy at City, where he has won two Premier League titles, two EFL Cups and the FA Cup since moving from Liverpool in 2015, but he cannot disguise his admiration for Zinedine Zidane's side.

"Right now, I'm at City and I'm really happy," Sterling told Madrid sports publication AS.

"But I say Real Madrid are a fantastic club. When you see the white shirt, you know exactly what the club stands for. It's massive. But at the same time, I have a contract with City now and I have to respect this. But it's a fantastic club.

"No one knows what the future will hold. I am a player and I am always open to challenges but right now my challenge is at Manchester City. In the future, hopefully, who knows..."

City were given a two-season ban from European competition by UEFA after being found guilty of breaching Financial Fair Play regulations, although the club insist they have done nothing wrong and intend to appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Speaking on the issue, Sterling said: "It's something we don't know much about yet because it's something that has not been confirmed. The club has a long way to go and we just have to wait and see what happens, but I have full confidence in the club."

City face Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League, with the first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu taking place next Wednesday.

Sterling is relishing the challenge of facing the 14-time champions of Europe and does not think there is anything lucky about Zidane having led Madrid to three consecutive Champions League triumphs from 2016 to 2018.

"We had a good reaction when we knew that they will be our rival," said the England star. "If you want to do well I think the best thing you have to do is to play against the best teams straight away and there is no better challenge than Real Madrid.

"It is always going to be a difficult game whether they are in a good or a bad moment, just because of the atmosphere, the historical stadium that we are going to...

"It's going to be a difficult game, especially now that they are doing really well, but at the same time I’ve got full confidence in our team and if we get it right on the day, I believe we can win.

"I think to win the Champions League so many times, especially in a row as well, is very difficult. I don't think that's luck; it's definitely a formula. Some people have that winning mentality and he wins by any means. So I wouldn't say that it's luck, I'd say it's something he has probably developed over his great career as a player and he's developing his career as a manager, so it continues this winning touch."

Manchester City forward Gabriel Jesus is reportedly wanted by Serie A giants Juventus.

Jesus, 22, has struggled for regular game time since arriving at City from Palmeiras in early 2017.

And Juve may be prepared to take the Brazil international to Turin.

 

TOP STORY – JUVENTUS WANT MAN CITY'S JESUS

Juventus want Jesus in a €69.9million (£58.5m) move, according to The Sun.

The report adds the Serie A champions also want Mauro Icardi, who is on loan at Paris Saint-Germain from Inter.

Jesus has scored 36 goals in 90 Premier League games for City, but just 48 of those have been starts.

ROUND-UP

- With his contract at Real Madrid ending in 2021, Sergio Ramos seemingly wants a new deal. AS reports the Madrid captain, 33, wants a further two years on his deal, but the LaLiga giants are not keen to offer it.

- Paulo Dybala looks likely to re-sign at Juventus. CalcioMercato reports the playmaker is getting closer to a renewal with the club with his current contract expiring in 2022.

- Amid Liverpool's reported interest in RB Leipzig star Timo Werner, Roberto Firmino has been linked with a stunning move to Bayern Munich. However, Goal reports the Premier League leaders' front three of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Firmino are "going nowhere" at the end of the season.

- Newcastle United remain keen to sign Lille midfielder Boubakary Soumare. Le 10 Sport says the Premier League club are continuing to press for the 20-year-old to make the move after being unable to get a deal done in January.

- Arsenal are eager to re-sign Bukayo Saka. The 18-year-old, who has impressed at left-back, is in talks over a lucrative long-term deal, according to The Times.

Bayern Munich head coach Hansi Flick is staying relaxed despite the uncertainty surrounding his future and wants to establish his own "philosophy" after his playing style was compared to that of Pep Guardiola.

Flick took over from Niko Kovac in November after the Croatian was dismissed, and following an initial interim spell in charge, he was appointed head coach until the end of the season.

Bayern were fourth in the Bundesliga when Kovac was sacked but have since risen to the summit, winning 13 of 16 matches in all competitions following the 5-1 thrashing at Eintracht Frankfurt that cost Flick's predecessor his job.

But recent reports have claimed Flick is frustrated by Bayern's unwillingness to appoint him on a long-term basis before the end of the season, while other stories suggest he is attracting interest from rival clubs.

Publicly, however, Flick insists he is at ease with his situation and not thinking about the future.

"I live in the present. I just enjoy it," Flick told reporters on Thursday.

"We try to do a good job. What comes next is in the stars. Bayern have a bit of peace and quiet, thinking about what they want to do in the future.

"I concentrate on the here and now. If they are convinced, they will make a decision. If they then want another coach, the world will not end for me either.

"I've never talked about that before. Bayern Munich are my employers. Everything else just distracts."

Flick's rise to the top job at Bayern has facilitated an improvement not only in results but also the perception of their brand of football.

Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer said after Sunday's 4-1 win at Cologne that their first-half performance resembled the Bayern of former coach Guardiola, a three-time Bundesliga champion.

Yet while Flick sees the Manchester City boss as an inspiration, he wants to craft his own ideology.

"Guardiola is the best coach, for me," Flick said. "I was able to get to know him during my time at the DFB [German Football Association].

"The way in which he plays is an inspiration for many, also for me. But everyone has to have their own philosophy. In this respect, it's not derogatory [against Guardiola]."

Bayern are next in action on Friday when they host basement side Paderborn.

Wilfred Ndidi has been ruled out of Leicester City's Premier League clash with Manchester City on Saturday.

The midfielder has missed his side's past two games - draws with Chelsea and Wolves - due to a knee problem.

Manager Brendan Rodgers says he will not rush Ndidi back to face the champions and risk any setbacks in his recovery.

"Wilf won't be available for the weekend," Rodgers told reporters on Thursday. "He's still in a process to try and get fit, so we'll see how he is next week. I'm not sure.

"He's doing work inside, but you then have to progress that to outside and then when he can join the team. It's another intensity to join the team and then to play.

"We just want to make sure he's right because he's such an important player for us. It's about the long term, too. There's no timeline on it. We'll see how he progresses."

Ndidi's absence presents Rodgers with a problem in midfield, with Hamza Choudhury suspended for the game against Pep Guardiola's side and Nampalys Mendy also out with a knee injury.

"They're three excellent players and obviously we have to find a strategy and a plan to come up with a game that can see us try and get three points," he said.

"Wilf has obviously played more, but all three give you that defensive solidity, which is important for any team. They're not available, so we can't worry about that."

Rodgers went on to distance Leicester from an approach for Adam Lallana, who is expected to leave Liverpool at the end of the season.

"I've seen a lot of stuff around Adam and that we've approached Liverpool, which isn't the case," said Rodgers, who signed the player for Liverpool from Southampton in 2014.

"He's at the stage of his contract where he will have options."

Leicester, who are third, go into the game four points behind Manchester City in the table, having only won three of their past 10 league games.

Barcelona forward Lionel Messi believes it would be "screwed" if Manchester City's players were banned from playing in the Champions League for two years.

Last week City were hit with a two-year ban from European competition by UEFA for "serious breaches" of Financial Fair Play regulations following an investigation.

City, who were accused of "overstating sponsorship revenue" between 2012 and 2016, have denied any wrongdoing and intend to appeal the sanctions at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

However, should the ban stick, it would cast doubts over the futures of players such as Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne and Messi's close friend Sergio Aguero.

"It is surprising because nobody thought that such a thing could happen, so powerful," Messi told Mundo Deportivo.

"Paris [Saint-Germain] paid a fine or I don't know how it went. If in the end City does not play in the Champions League for what it is, with the players, the club, and the money it spends, it will be weird."

Messi was then asked about the possibility of his compatriot Aguero wanting to join him at Camp Nou should the ban be upheld.

"If City do not enter the Champions League there are many players that may look for an exit, or maybe not," Messi added.

"The Champions League is very attractive so two years without playing it can be screwed."

City face Real Madrid in the last 16 of this season's competition, with their Premier League rivals Liverpool having already lost to another club from the city in their first leg.

Atletico Madrid became just the third team to defeat the Reds this season when they claimed a 1-0 success in Spain on Tuesday, not that Messi was surprised by the LaLiga side's performance.

"The truth is, no," he said.

"On the day of the draw we talked in the dressing room that it would be very close because Atletico competes a lot in this competition. 

"In duels of two matches they are very strong and they showed it again, that they will compete and they will be there."

Kevin De Bruyne insisted nothing has changed at Manchester City and said the players have "all trust" in the club after they were hit with a Champions League ban.

City were handed a two-season ban from European competition by UEFA last week after being found to have committed "serious breaches" of Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations.

The Premier League champions have denied any wrongdoing and intend to appeal, but speculation has mounted over manager Pep Guardiola and their star players' futures.

De Bruyne starred in a 2-0 Premier League win over West Ham on Wednesday and the playmaker said there was no change at City despite off-field events.

"Obviously we were on holiday when the statement happened. We came back and played football. The situation is what it is," he told Sky Sports.

"We came back and trained like normal and in the end nothing really changed. We just play the games we have, like today when we gave a good performance.

"We still have a lot to play for and let's hope we can find our rhythm as soon as possible and win some titles."

De Bruyne added: "The team give the statement. I don't know what else we can do other than play football. In the end the situation will show what it will show.

"The club is doing its thing and we have all trust in them."

Goals from Rodri and De Bruyne helped City consolidate second place and close the gap to Liverpool to 22 points in their first game since February 2.

De Bruyne felt the break impacted Guardiola's side, who travel to third-placed Leicester City on Saturday.

"It was okay. I think we saw it's been three weeks without football and we felt a little bit of rustiness, but we played a good game," he said.

The Financial Fair Play rain clouds that have been lingering for so long over Manchester City finally burst on Friday.

And yet, through the uncertain, murky gloom – which was not completely at odds with the Manchester weather earlier on this cold February day – there shined a familiar ray of hope.

Just as the rain subsided physically, so too can the storm pass – at least for this season – if Wednesday's evidence in City's 2-0 beating of West Ham is anything to go by. 

The full repercussions of the bombshell of a two-season ban from European competition and a €30million fine administered by UEFA for what the organisation's Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) deemed "serious breaches" of its FFP are still some way from being felt.

Not least because it is a ruling that barely starts the war, let alone ends it. City offered an immediate rebuttal, a denying of any wrongdoing and an intention to take their appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

More battle lines were drawn when chief executive Ferran Soriano insisted allegations that City broke the rules "are simply not true" alongside an insistence the club had provided "irrefutable evidence" to the CFCB they had committed no wrongdoing. 

It is a scenario that will rumble on for some time. 

But here's the thing. Ultimately, you can have questions around City's financial conduct. You can feel uncomfortable about City's main means of defence throughout the process being to attack the validity of UEFA's investigation. You can even question the morality of football clubs being funded by oil-rich states.

It is fine to harbour those legitimate concerns and still be completely in awe of the slick machine Pep Guardiola has built, one many suggested would not be possible in English football. 

Sure, the Premier League trophy is headed to Liverpool this season and City's on-pitch shortfalls owe much to Guardiola's nonsensical decision not to replace Vincent Kompany, leaving City's defence low on numbers - the consequent re-positioning of Fernandinho after a serious knee injury to Aymeric Laporte in turn weakening his midfield.

But there were moments against the Hammers that reminded us of what has made City so utterly joyous during the previous two all-conquering title-winning seasons.

The intent was plain to see with a starting line-up blessed with City's wealth of attacking armoury. David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne pulling the strings from midfield, Bernardo Silva employed further forward and Gabriel Jesus utilised wide in a front three – an intriguing subplot given it is a role he may have to fulfil against Real Madrid should Raheem Sterling not be fit and one in which he excelled as Brazil earned Copa America glory.

Indeed, had it not been for Jesus' dalliance, City twice would have been in front inside 15 minutes. West Ham clearly came with the intention to pack the defence and the midfield. The timeless David Silva unlocked that plan after just six minutes, playing an intricate sliderule ball into the path of Jesus who opted to try and round Lukasz Fabianski rather than take the favourable option of shooting. He was guilty of similar wastefulness when, after admittedly more fortuitous play, he was found by De Bruyne.

There was a delightful simplicity about the way City made the breakthrough. A De Bruyne corner, a front-post run by Rodri and a flicked header to the far post. 

But the second was much more a trademark of City under Guardiola. The intricate build-up play, the link-up between De Bruyne and his fellow creative genius Bernardo Silva, and the unerring finish from the former – who continues to be the beating heart of this team.

That such a performance came against a toothless, expensively assembled West Ham side shambling their way through a relegation battle should only partly detract from the credit City's performance deserves.

Sterner examinations are obviously on the horizon. Namely Madrid in what is a crucial last-16 Champions League tie, where you sense the atmosphere will be significantly more hostile towards UEFA and there will need to be more vibrancy on and off the pitch, though credit should be given to those game fans turning out for a hastily rearranged Premier League fixture with little riding on it.

Save for the brief, and somewhat unsavoury, "f*** UEFA" chants, and the self-deprecating singing of "City's going down with a billion in the bank" – a nod to a song rivals Manchester United used to taunt their blue neighbours with – the stands were understandably sedate and sparse.

But for now this was the sort of riposte City required on the pitch amid the uncertain turmoil off it. 

The FFP storm may still be gathering but with Guardiola, who has signalled his intent to stick around regardless of the outcome of the club's CAS appeal, there remains a feeling the light can shine through the dark clouds.

Manchester City put their off-field issues to one side by easing to a 2-0 win over West Ham in Wednesday's rearranged Premier League fixture at the Etihad Stadium.

The build-up to the game was dominated by talk of a two-year ban from European football imposed on City by UEFA for breaching Financial Fair Play regulations.

But it was business as usual on the pitch for City as Rodri made a breakthrough in the first half with his first home goal for the club and Kevin De Bruyne added a second just after the hour.

That proved enough for Pep Guardiola's men, who bounced back from their 2-0 loss at Tottenham earlier this month to open up a four-point gap on third-place Leicester City.

The original game was called off 10 days ago due to Storm Ciara which, combined with the competition's inaugural mid-season break, meant a 17-day rest for City's players.

It did not take long for the hosts to get going, Gabriel Jesus spurning a glorious chance by taking one touch too many in front of goal and allowing Ryan Fredericks to get back.

The Brazil striker again delayed the shot too long from City's next big opening, but Rodri opened the scoring with a looping header at the near post after half an hour.

Guardiola's men toiled for large parts of the contest but had a second goal after 62 minutes through De Bruyne, who exchanged passes with Bernardo Silva and fired home.

Jesus was denied by Lukasz Fabianski 13 minutes from the end, though it mattered little as West Ham - in the relegation zone after collecting two points from the last 18 on offer - failed to muster any sort of response.


What does it mean? City do their talking on the pitch

The threat of a two-year ban from the Champions League has led to talk of a string of City's first-team stars, as well as boss Guardiola, moving on at the end of the season.

Guardiola challenged his players to focus on each game as it comes and this was a welcome win, 17 days on from losing at Tottenham in their most recent outing.

De Bruyne delivers again

De Bruyne sent in a delightful corner for Rodri's opener and blasted in a second to make it a combined 151 goals and assists for the playmaker in Europe's top five leagues.

Since making his City debut in September 2015, only Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi (62) has assisted more goals in Europe's top five leagues than the 61 De Bruyne has managed.

Hesitant Jesus lets West Ham off

Guardiola started Aguero and Jesus together in the Premier League for just the 12th time and West Ham struggled to cope with the pair.

Both players should have got on the scoresheet, though, with Jesus guilty of missing three gilt-edged opportunities.

What's next?

City will be looking to preserve their four-point lead on Leicester when they head to the King Power Stadium on Saturday, while West Ham have a daunting trip to league leaders Liverpool in five days' time.

Manchester City chief executive Ferran Soriano insists allegations the club broke UEFA Financial Fair Play rules "are simply not true".

Last week, UEFA issued the Premier League champions with a two-season ban from European competition and a €30million fine after its investigation found them guilty of breaking FFP regulations.

UEFA's Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) said City had "committed serious breaches" of FFP rules by overstating sponsorship revenue between 2012 and 2016 and added the club had failed to cooperate in its investigation.

City said they were "disappointed but not surprised" by the outcome and promised to appeal against the decision at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Soriano, City CEO since September 2012, spoke on Wednesday to deny the club have received funds from owner Sheikh Mansour that were not "properly declared" and said City did cooperate with the CFCB, delivering "irrefutable evidence" that they committed no wrongdoing.

He also accused the CFCB adjudicatory chamber of being more concerned about "politics" than justice and criticised its reliance on "out-of-context stolen emails" in their investigation. UEFA has declined to respond to Soriano's comments.

"The most important thing I have to say today is that the allegations are not true. They are simply not true," Soriano told City media.

"The owner has not put money in this club that has not been properly declared. We are a sustainable football club, we are profitable, we don't have debt, our accounts have been scrutinised many times, by auditors, by regulators, by investors and this is perfectly clear.

"We did cooperate with this process. We delivered a long list of documents and support that we believe is irrefutable evidence that the claims are not true and it was hard because we did this in the context of information being leaked to the media in the context of feeling that every step of the way, every engagement we had, we felt that we were considered guilty before anything was even discussed, but at the end, this is an internal process that has been initiated and then prosecuted and then judged by this FFP chamber at UEFA.

"Of course, a lot of people come now and say, 'Well, what were you expecting? This is the way it works. You should have expected a negative outcome the way the system is designed'. But we didn't believe that.  We worked very hard. We provided the evidence but in the end this FFP investigatory chamber relied more on out-of-context stolen emails than all the other evidence we provided of what actually happened and I think it is normal that we feel like we feel. Ultimately, based on our experience and our perception, this seems to be less about justice and more about politics.

"We went to CAS mid-process because it was clear to us that we were not having a fair process and we were concerned. We were specifically concerned about the leaks, the constant leak of information. CAS said there was merit in our complaint, they said that the leaks were 'worrisome' and they said they would judge it when process has finished. The process has finished now; we are going to CAS again.

"We are looking for an early resolution obviously through a thorough process and a fair process so my best hope is that this will be finished before the beginning of the summer and until then for us, it is business as usual.

"The experience with this FFP investigatory chamber has been negative for us, more than what I would have imagined. But this is not UEFA. We are not talking about the whole of UEFA, which is an association of associations. I personally know many people that work at UEFA, very hard for the benefit of UEFA, but also for the benefit of the clubs of UEFA like ours, but also for the benefit of football.

"All we are looking for is a proper adjudication in an independent and impartial body that is going to take the time to look at all the evidence and look at it without preconception. I am also looking for the end of this process maybe to put an end under this undertone that we are hearing all the time that anything that we do, any result that we get, is based only on money and not on talent and effort. The hundreds of people that work at this club know this is not true, that it is about effort and talent, so maybe, in the end, this is an opportunity."

The looming Champions League ban has prompted speculation over the futures of City's star players and manager Pep Guardiola, who has only a year left on his contract, but Soriano insists their focus is solely on football.

"Obviously, he has been kept informed about this process but this is not something for him to respond to," he said of Guardiola. "He is focused on the football, he is focusing on the game, the game at hand, the game today, tomorrow and the next weeks. As well as the players. They are calm, they are focused and this matter is more a business matter, a legal matter than a football manner.

"The fans can be sure of two things. The first one is that the allegations are false. And the second is that we will do everything that can be done to prove so. We know the fans are supporting us. We can feel it. Manchester City fans have gone through challenges over the decades. This is just another challenge."

LaLiga champions Barcelona are a club in crisis.

From public rows to allegations that say the current board were involved in hiring a PR firm to spread negative narratives about Barca legends, a claim the club have denied.

It has been a turbulent time at Camp Nou and MLS powerhouse LA Galaxy have looked to capitalise.

 

TOP STORY – GALAXY ENQUIRE ABOUT MESSI

LA Galaxy enquired about Barcelona captain Lionel Messi's interest in moving to the United States, according to Radio Continental.

Messi was involved in a public row with director of football Eric Abidal, raising doubts over his Barca future amid links to Manchester United, Manchester City, Inter and Paris Saint-Germain.

Galaxy head coach and former Boca Juniors boss Guillermo Barros Schelotto reportedly reached out to Messi's father to see if the six-time Ballon d'Or winner was open to swapping Barcelona for Los Angeles.

ROUND-UP

Paul Pogba is confident he will finally be granted an exit by Manchester United, reports the Evening Standard. Pogba – still recovering from an ankle injury – has been linked with a return to former club Juventus as well as LaLiga giants Real Madrid.

- Staying at Old Trafford and The Independent claims United are in advanced negotiations with former PSG technical director Antero Henrique. Ralf Rangnick is also reportedly being considered.

- RB Leipzig's head of sport Rangnick is still being targeted by Milan for the role as head coach, reports Calciomercato. However, the Italian club are split as Stefano Pioli leads a resurgence.

- According to Tuttosport, Serie A champions Juventus are interested in bringing Manchester City forward Gabriel Jesus to Turin.

- France Football says Barca are eyeing Galatasaray's teenage sensation Mustafa Kapi. The 17-year-old is out of contract at the end of the season.

Chelsea have entered the race to sign in-demand Hellas Verona centre-back Marash Kumbulla, says Calciomercato. The 20-year-old Albania international is also wanted by Inter, Napoli, Liverpool, United and City.

Pep Guardiola's agent reiterated his client "always fulfills his contracts" amid fresh speculation regarding the Manchester City boss' future following UEFA's Financial Fair Play (FFP) sanctions.

Last week City were hit with a two-season ban from European competition for "serious breaches" of FFP regulations, a suspension meted out after an investigation found the Premier League champions guilty of "overstating its sponsorship revenue in its accounts and in the break-even information submitted to UEFA between 2012 and 2016".

City have denied wrongdoing throughout the process and intend to appeal the punishments, which also include a €30million fine, yet the possibility of not playing in Europe for two seasons has led to questions about the future of their key players and manager.

Prior to the UEFA sanctions, Guardiola had stated his wish to see out his City contract and remain in Manchester until 2021, and his agent Josep Maria Orobitg suggested nothing has changed on that front.

"Guardiola always fulfils all his contracts," he told El Mundo.

"And this [contract with City] concludes in June 2021."

Guardiola left Barcelona at the end of his one-year rolling contract in 2012 after four hugely successful seasons with his boyhood club.

He then spent three seasons with Bayern Munich, again vacating the post when his contract ran out.

Guardiola was appointed City boss in 2016 and he signed fresh terms in May 2018, shortly after his team won the Premier League title with a record-breaking 100 points.

Should he complete his current contract at the Etihad Stadium, the time at City would be Guardiola's longest stint at a club.

Yaya Toure conceded he is "a little bit scared" for Manchester City in their Champions League last-16 encounter with Real Madrid.

City went through their group stage unbeaten, winning four of their six games and scoring 16 times as they topped a pool featuring Atalanta, Shakhtar Donetsk and Dinamo Zagreb.

However, Pep Guardiola's side were then handed possibly the sternest test possible as they were pitted against 13-time winners Madrid, who only finished second in Group A behind Paris Saint-Germain.

Madrid have never lost a Champions League knockout tie under Zidane, who won three successive trophies during his previous reign and returned last March, with Los Blancos' European pedigree leaving Toure fearful for his old club City.

"I wanted City to get Lyon or some club like that, but Real Madrid is going to be a tough game, a very, very tough game," Toure told Omnisport.

"But we will see - the first game is at the Bernabeu and then it is [at the] Etihad [Stadium].

"Real Madrid could knock us straight out. They could, they really could, because we expect Real Madrid to be in the quarter-finals, the semi-finals and now they face City.

"I'm a little scared to be honest."

The first match takes place on Wednesday, February 26, with Madrid then travelling to Manchester for the second leg on March 17.

Madrid were eliminated at the last-16 stage last season by Ajax, which prompted the club to turn back to Zidane.

The Frenchman has presided over a 15-game unbeaten run in LaLiga and Toure was particularly impressed by Madrid in their 2-2 home draw with PSG in November, even though Zidane's side threw away a two-goal lead late on.

"The last time I saw a game is when they played against Paris Saint-Germain, it was very good," Toure added.

"Even though [PSG] take two goals in the end, Madrid was on top of Paris Saint-Germain and Paris Saint-Germain are a good, good side.

"I think Paris Saint-Germain is going to be going forward to the semi-final or final. We never know. They are playing very good, they have a good coach.

"I hope Man City are going to pass Madrid but this is a big, big test, a big ask."

Arsene Wenger backed the ban UEFA handed down to Manchester City for breaching Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations but acknowledged some "evolution" is needed in the rules.

UEFA announced on Friday that City had been handed a two-season suspension from European competition and a €30million fine for breaching their FFP framework.

The club have since confirmed they will appeal the decision at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Former Arsenal boss Wenger is in favour of capping finances but believes further work is needed to ensure there can be no questioning the legality of certain actions.

However, he was in no doubt that clubs deemed to have contravened the regulations deserve punishment.

"I was always for control of the financial rules. Let the clubs work with the natural income they have," said Wenger, who now works for FIFA as its chief of global football development.

"I'm convinced that there is an evolution to be made in the way the rules are at the moment. But they are what they are and you have to respect them.

"People who don't respect them and are caught trying to get around the rules in more or less legal ways have to be punished. If it's proven that this has been done on purpose then this cannot go unpunished.

"Sport is about winning by respecting the rules. If there's no respect for the rules, it's not real sport, which is what I think is most important."

The ban imposed by UEFA has led to speculation over the future of some of City's star players, as well as coach Pep Guardiola.

However, Guardiola has reportedly told the players he will remain at the club regardless of the outcome of the appeal to CAS.

Steven Gerrard is "really, really interested" to see if action will be taken against Manchester City amid reports a Premier League punishment could see them stripped of their 2013-14 title.

On Friday, City were hit with a two-season ban from European competition and a €30million fine by UEFA for "serious breaches" of its Financial Fair Play regulations.

The club have denied any wrongdoing and immediately announced their intention to lodge an appeal against the ruling with the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

A domestic punishment is one possible outcome as the Premier League conducts its own investigation to see if its rules were broken in the four-year period in question, between 2012 and 2016.

The Citizens won the Premier League in 2013-14, finishing two points ahead of Liverpool, meaning any potential retrospective points deduction could benefit the Reds and their former captain, Gerrard.

But with the process set to be a lengthy one, Gerrard is not getting ahead of himself.

"I read that myself," the Rangers manager told reporters when it was put to him that City could face domestic action as a result of their alleged indiscretions.

"We will wait and see. From a UEFA point of view, it is obviously a real strong sentence or punishment. I'm sure they will appeal so we will wait and see what the outcome is on that.

"Then we will see whether the Premier League act from there, but if you look at the severity of the punishment from UEFA, something has gone badly wrong.

"So, I'm really interested to see the outcome of that. Until the [potential] punishment from the Premier League, I won't comment further. But I'm really, really interested in it...for obvious reasons.

"It's all ifs and buts. It is what it is. Manchester City were champions. As I sit here right now, congratulations to them. They are champions. Until things develop, if they develop, it's all ifs and buts.

"I've got nothing to say on the matter. All I say is I'm very interested because of the severity of what UEFA have put out there."

The probe into City's financial affairs was prompted by a series of allegations published by German magazine Der Spiegel in November 2018, which drew on documents purportedly obtained by whistleblowers Football Leaks.

Following an investigation, the Adjudicatory Chamber of UEFA's Club Financial Control Body found City guilty of "overstating its sponsorship revenue in its accounts and in the break-even information submitted to UEFA between 2012 and 2016", allegations the club denied.

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