Twelve days on from being barred from the Champions League for the next two seasons, Manchester City travel to face the most successful team in the history of the competition.

But, despite a UEFA punishment that will now be appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and a domestic campaign being contested at a distance from runaway Premier League leaders Liverpool, there are reasons for City to be optimistic ahead of their last-16 showdown against Real Madrid.

Here, we look at some of the factors that could prove decisive in Wednesday's first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu – a match that might come to be viewed as season-defining for Pep Guardiola and his players.

 

Laporte the leader and lynchpin

All eyes will be looking for Raheem Sterling's name when the City teamsheet drops in the Spanish capital, with the England forward expected to win his race to recover from a hamstring strain suffered last month.

However, Guardiola has already confirmed an arguably even more influential performer will be available.

"Aymeric Laporte's injury broke the defensive organisation," a source close to the City boss told Stats Perform and this conclusion is hard to contest.

Guardiola was without his central defensive lynchpin for almost five months due to a meniscus injury suffered during the 4-0 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion at the end of August.

In the three games Laporte has started since his return, City have won each time and collected three clean sheets – the former Athletic Bilbao star bringing an air of assurance and authority a makeshift backline has largely lacked in his absence.

Since he signed in January 2018, City have conceded an average of 0.6 goals per game in the Premier League with Laporte in the team. This jumps to 1.1 without him, with their win percentage down from 86.3 per cent to 60.7.

Indeed, in 28 top-flight games not featuring the Frenchman during this period, City have conceded 31 times – one more than the 30 let in across 51 matches with Laporte on the pitch. 

"He just brings stability," former City captain and central defender Richard Dunne told Stats Perform.

"He reads the game well, he holds his position, he stays on his feet. He's a steady head in that defence. At times Nicolas Otamendi can get distracted and goes off out of position, John Stones can maybe dwell on the ball at times.

"For the whole team – for the midfielders in front and the goalkeeper behind – they can trust Laporte, they know what he's going to do and where he's going to be.

"Every defence needs a leader. Liverpool have one in Virgil van Dijk and City have missed it this season when Laporte's not been there."

 

Tactical flexibility

Laporte's lengthy spell on the sidelines also took a toll on City as an attacking force, with the build-up patterns so fundamental to Guardiola's style becoming a touch predictable and sluggish without the defender's astute range of passing from his immaculate left boot.

"A right-footer playing on the left tends to come back inside and the ball gets played down one side of the pitch the whole time," Dunne explained.

"A left-footer will play the ball down the line and City's game plan is to use the whole pitch. Laporte opens that up. He gives them more options in terms of playing out from the back."

Additional injury problems – such as the cruciate ligament damage sustained by Leroy Sane, who has not travelled to Madrid as he steps up work on the training field – have persuaded Guardiola to step away from the 4-3-3/4-1-4-1 setup that blazed a trail to consecutive Premier League titles.

The experiments have largely been successful, with Kevin De Bruyne dazzling in a variety of roles amid frequent shape shifting.

Phil Foden made his first Premier League start of the season on the left wing in a 4-2-3-1 at Arsenal in December, while the first leg of the EFL Cup semi-final at Manchester United saw City play a hybrid 4-2-4 without a conventional striker. In each match, Guardiola's men were 3-0 up at half-time.

Elsewhere, using three at the back occasionally has served to limit the opposition, if also compromising City's attacking flow. Zinedine Zidane cannot be sure what configuration he will face, although seasoned Guardiola observers might think this is something in the Real Madrid boss' favour.

 

Madrid an antidote to Guardiola overthink?

If a wildcard selection backfires, City's manager will once again face the accusations of overthinking that have dogged his Champions League failures since collecting a second European title in three seasons at Barcelona in 2010-11.

This can be traced back to his Bayern Munich suffering a 4-0 hammering against Madrid in a 2014 semi-final, when all-out attack backfired. Last season, City were left to rue a safety-first approach in the first leg when a riotous return versus Tottenham ended in a 4-4 aggregate departure on away goals.

In between those blots there was the swiftly abandoned ploy of man marking Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi as Bayern raggedly chased a vintage Barca around Camp Nou, before Liverpool ran roughshod over a packed City midfield at Anfield in 2018.

It should be pointed out that decent chunks of luck have gone against Guardiola and his teams during this barren run, while his tactical tweaks have helped to yield numerous successes elsewhere. Nevertheless, a narrative is established.

Perhaps facing an opponent with whom he has enjoyed a career-long rivalry, while leading a club seemingly in the throes of a siege mentality, provides a handy opportunity to break it.

Before losing 1-0 with Bayern, Guardiola was unbeaten in seven games as a coach facing Madrid at the Bernabeu. In El Clasico, his record reads nine wins, four draws and two defeats, during a period where Madrid called upon the might of Jose Mourinho, Cristiano Ronaldo and others.

Zidane's current crop featured many of the heroes of Los Blancos' three consecutive Champions League final triumphs between 2016 and 2018, although they have one win in their past four matches across all competitions and face a potentially decisive LaLiga showdown versus Barcelona this weekend.

Then there is the tantalising ingredient of Guardiola's stance in support of a Catalan self-determination – another factor to fire the most vocal elements at the Bernabeu, those sworn enemies who will hope not to witness another of his greatest deeds.

Pep Guardiola accepts there may be some truth to Thomas Muller's recent suggestion the Manchester City coach overthinks the opposition in the Champions League, but he feels it comes from a desire to not underprepare.

Muller played under Guardiola for three years during the Calatan coach's spell at Bayern Munich, and in a recent interview with The Athletic he suggested the incumbent City boss suffers from an inability to focus on one aspect.

The German forward claims Guardiola becomes conflicted, unsure whether to alter his tactics and set-up to fit the opponent in the biggest games, or stand by his trusted philosophy.

Muller feels such indecisiveness leads to confusion among players, and against the strongest teams that can prove fatal.

Up next for City and Guardiola is a trip to the Santiago Bernabeu to face Real Madrid in the Champions League last 16 first leg on Wednesday, and Guardiola acknowledges Muller may have a point, though he insists it should not be seen as a criticism.

"When an ex-player makes this kind of statement, it's not a criticism," Guardiola told reports in his pre-match news conference in Madrid. "It's information to me. I haven't played against Madrid for five years.

"It is true, sometimes I give too much, [but] Thomas and the other players can't say I don't prepare them for a game, at Barcelona, Bayern Munich or City, even in the games we lose.

"As a player, the more information I had, the better prepared I was to face them. It gave me confidence.

"Maybe he [Muller] is right, but I always try to make them confident."

Wednesday's match in Madrid will be City's first European outing since UEFA handed down a two-year Champions League ban for Financial Fair Play (FFP) breaches, which the club will appeal.

Ever since the punishment was confirmed, speculation has been rife about the future of Guardiola and many City players, but he remains adamant this season will not be his players' final opportunity to win the competition.

"No way. These players will have many opportunities to win," he said. "We play a big team. We know the challenge we have to face.

"It's not the last one. You never know what's going to happen. We have an opportunity, we try to be ourselves.

"The desire to win has to be there or it's impossible but it's just another game. That's all."

Raheem Sterling is fit to face Real Madrid on Wednesday, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has confirmed.

England star Sterling has missed City's past two matches with a hamstring problem but was recalled to the traveling squad for the first leg of the Champions League last-16 tie at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Guardiola has lauded Sterling's powers of recovery, saying the player wanted to return to action earlier but was kept on the sidelines as a precaution.

"Raheem is fit," Guardiola told reporters on Tuesday. "His natural, physical condition, regeneration is amazing. He said to us, 'I could have played the West Ham game, the game against Leicester City'.

"The doctors told us to be careful. But it's a good sign. He's fit. He's ready."

One player who will not feature in the two legs is Eden Hazard, the Real Madrid winger having sustained an ankle fracture that could keep him out for much of the next two months.

Having seen the Belgium forward in action against his City side during his Chelsea career, Guardiola admits Hazard's absence is a blow to the occasion.

"It's very bad he's not here," Guardiola said. "I had the honour of enjoying, partly, and suffering him in England.

"When you see him loads you say, 'what a player'. I'm convinced Madrid made a wonderful signing. I wish he were here and I wish him the best recovery because he's a magnificent player."

Guardiola described it as "a pleasure" to return to the Santiago Bernabeu, where he competed both as a player and head coach of Barcelona and when in charge of Bayern Munich.

"It's one of the greatest places," he said. "As a player here, I won and I lost; as a coach, I won and I lost. To play the Champions League here is an honour. I have to enjoy it; it's all I can do."

Manchester City's players turned on the style ahead of their clash with Real Madrid, with Pep Guardiola's squad travelling for the Champions League fixture decked out in double denim.

The squad wore blue jeans and denim shirts from brand DSquared2 over the top of black tee-shirts on their departure from Manchester on Tuesday.

The choice of attire certainly made a statement - a fashion statement, that is - as they set off for the Spanish capital.

Bernardo Silva gave a thumbs up, perhaps offering his approval of the outfit, in one of the pictures posted by the Premier League side on Twitter, though they were quickly taken down.

Raheem Sterling - who has not played since suffering a thigh injury in the 2-0 defeat at Tottenham at the start of February - was among the travelling party, suggesting the England international is set to feature in the game.

Madrid will hope to make the most of home advantage on Wednesday in the first leg of the last-16 tie, with the return fixture taking place at the Etihad Stadium on March 17.

Raheem Sterling and Aymeric Laporte have been named in Manchester City's initial squad for Wednesday's Champions League last-16 first leg with Real Madrid.

England international Sterling has missed City's last two games with a hamstring injury, while Laporte left the field before the hour mark in Saturday's 1-0 win against Leicester City.

However, both players have been included as part of the Premier League champions' 22-man travelling party for the clash at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Leroy Sane was thought to be in contention after returning to training last month, but the winger did not make the trip to the Spanish capital on Tuesday.

Madrid also named their 19-man squad on the eve of the match, with Gareth Bale returning to the fold after sitting out Saturday's 1-0 loss at Levante through illness.

Eden Hazard misses out on selection after sustaining a potentially season-ending ankle injury in the same match, but striker Luka Jovic is back involved.

Zinedine Zidane's men head into the game on a run of one win in their last four matches, while City have won back-to-back games.

Zinedine Zidane hailed Pep Guardiola as the best coach in the world but insisted Real Madrid's clash with Manchester City is not a battle between the two men in the dugout.

Wednesday's Champions League last-16 first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu will mark the first time the managerial pair have faced off in a competitive match.

Zidane has won the competition three times as Madrid boss, while the second and most recent of Guardiola's successes came at Barcelona nine years ago.

However, the Frenchman has labelled his counterpart as the best in the business ahead of the midweek clash.

"He's shown it at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Man City," Zidane said at his pre-match news conference. "There are a lot of good coaches, but I think it's him [at the top].

"But it's Real Madrid v Manchester City, not Zidane vs Guardiola. What people want to see is a game of football between Madrid and City. It's an attractive game."

Madrid enter the match on the back of disappointing run of domestic form that has seen them exit the Copa del Rey and relinquish top spot in LaLiga.

By comparison, City have won back-to-back matches since being rocked by UEFA's announcement that they face a two-year ban from European competitions for breaching Financial Fair Play regulations – pending an appeal.

But Zidane has won all nine two-legged Champions League ties he has been involved in and has urged his players not to dwell on the recent defeats to Real Sociedad and Levante.

"We know the quality of the opponent that we're going to face," he said. "They're a very good team and they will come to play their way.

"What we have to do is play a very good match. We have to think about what we've been doing well and not focus on the two games with negative results we've had. We have to play well tomorrow.

"There are lot of teams who like to have the ball. Every side you play against is always going to have certain strengths, and it's our job to cancel them out. 

"City are a side with many strengths, including possession. But it's also about what we do - that's what we're interested in."

Sergio Ramos does not feel he "crossed any lines" with his criticism of referee Alejandro Hernandez Hernandez following Real Madrid's shock loss to Levante.

Madrid captain Ramos was booked after just 10 minutes of the 1-0 defeat on Saturday and the centre-back also felt Los Blancos were twice denied penalties.

The Spain centre-back let his frustration be known after the game when he said: "I'm annoyed with Hernandez Hernandez. 

"Referees were more respectful before and captains could speak to them. The arrogance is something that you have or you don't have.

"I asked if he had any personal problem with me and, if he did, to tell me so we could work it out. We're annoyed."

It is not the first time Ramos has taken issue with the official this season, having been left annoyed when VAR was not used to check a couple of calls in December's goalless Clasico with Barcelona.

But Ramos justified his comments after the Levante defeat when previewing Madrid's Champions League last-16 first-leg tie against Manchester City.

"I don't feel persecuted in Spain, but the philosophy is different in Europe, a bit more permissive in some things," he said. 

"The last game [Levante] was something personal, but generally I feel I have a good relationship with refs.

"I've never said anything out of place, nor never lacked respect for any referee. This is a democracy, and you can speak your mind, I don't think I've crossed any lines."

Ramos, 33, also insisted he is in no rush to enter contract negotiations, with his deal set to expire in June 2021.

Reports suggest Madrid are reluctant to meet Ramos' demands for a two-year extension but the defender insists that is not the case.

"The relationship with the club is magnificent in every way. So there is no rush on any side - mine or club," he added.

"I've never made extra demands, I understand club's policy with players of certain age. If club wants me to say, I'll stay, no need to worry.

"It seems they want to provoke a confrontation between the club and Ramos and it will not be like that."

Ramos and his Madrid team-mates will go head-to-head with a familiar foe in the form of ex-Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola when they face City at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday.

The long-serving former Sevilla man expressed his respect for the Catalan coach but insists Madrid's only motivation is winning the Champions League.

"I have a lot of respect for Guardiola, a great coach, with so much experience. His numbers speak for themselves," he said.

"Our big motivation is just we are playing the Champions League, not the rival club or coach."

Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos has revealed he came close to joining Manchester United in 2014 and also held talks with Liverpool the same year.

The Germany international has won the Champions League three times and LaLiga once since arriving at Madrid from Bayern Munich six seasons ago.

However, things could have been a lot different as Kroos was on the verge of putting pen to paper with United, only for the Premier League club to pull the plug on a potential transfer.

"David Moyes came to see me and the contract had basically been done but then Moyes was fired and Louis van Gaal came in, which complicated matters," he told The Athletic.

"Louis wanted time to build his own project. I didn't hear anything from United for a while and started having doubts.

"Then the World Cup started and Carlo Ancelotti called. And that was it."

Liverpool were also in the running to sign Kroos from Bayern and the 30-year-old received a text from Luis Suarez asking him to make the switch to Anfield.

"It wasn't a straight chat-up line but they offered to tell me more about the club and so on," he said of the discussions with the Merseyside club.

"The funny thing was, Suarez was about to leave to Barcelona anyway!"

Kroos has been linked with Madrid's Champions League last-16 opponents Manchester City in more recent years, but he has ruled out a reunion with ex-Bayern boss Pep Guardiola.

"I want to finish my career at Madrid, so I'd say it's very unlikely," said Kroos, who previously hinted he may retire when his current deal expires in 2023.

"But I loved playing for him and could have renewed my contract at Bayern, of course. I don't think it's ever a good idea to sign a deal just because of the manager, however.

"Pep wanted me to renew but what would have been the point of me signing a five-year deal if the manager was off again soon?

"He went to Man City two years later but we're still in touch and get on very well. I will never forget it because I learned so much."

Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling has revealed his Liverpool-supporting daughter tries to wind him up by chanting songs about Mohamed Salah.

Sterling was a first-team regular for three seasons at Anfield prior to forcing through a reported £49million move to Premier League rivals City in July 2015.

He has won six major honours during his time with City, but the England international continues to play second fiddle to Liverpool star Salah in his own household.

"She has my sort of personality and she likes to banter and chant Mo Salah's songs to me," Sterling said in an interview with AS. 

"She knows the rivalry between Liverpool and the team that I play for so she's always singing their songs and trying to wind me up but that's just her personality."

The 25-year-old also opened up on coping with racism on the football field and in everyday life.

Sterling has been praised for the stance he has taken against racism and discrimination, but he insisted there is a lot of work to be done in the wake of some unsavoury incidents.

Porto forward Moussa Marega demanded to be substituted earlier this month after scoring in a Primeira Liga win over Vitoria Guimaraes.

"Today this is one of those things that becomes normal," he said. "It is frequent now to see a player walk off the pitch by himself. 

"It's sad to see but it's one of those things that I don’t think is taken quite seriously enough. 

"People say that it is taken seriously but you can see month after month, it's the same on everywhere. 

"I think that if it was other subjects or people commenting on other people's sexuality, I think it would be taken a lot more seriously than talking about someone's skin colour."

Perhaps Jadon Sancho will remain at Borussia Dortmund beyond this season.

Sancho, 19, has been heavily linked with a move to the Premier League after impressing with the Bundesliga side.

But the England winger could yet stay at Dortmund a little longer.

 

TOP STORY – SANCHO MAY STAY AT DORTMUND BEYOND THIS SEASON

Sancho is happy at Dortmund and an exit in the close season is not certain, according to Ruhr Nachrichten.

The teenager is contracted at the club until 2022 so may at least begin the 2020-21 campaign at Dortmund.

Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea are all reportedly interested in Sancho.

 

ROUND-UP

- Staying at Liverpool and the Premier League leaders may have received more good news. Sport1 reports RB Leipzig star Timo Werner's release clause is £25.2m (€30m) plus a guarantee of performance-related bonuses. Previous reports said the forward's release clause was £50.4m (€60m).

- Marcelo Brozovic has done enough to impress Antonio Conte. CalcioMercato reports Inter are ready to begin contract talks with the Croatia international, who is set for a salary increase but could also have his release clause of €60m removed. Brozovic's current deal runs until 2022.

- Could George Clooney be set for a foray into … Malaga? AS reports a group with business links to the American actor are in talks to buy a stake in the Spanish club.

- With his Manchester United contract expiring at season's end, Nemanja Matic appears set for a move from Old Trafford. CalcioMercato reports the midfielder's agents have offered the 31-year-old to Milan, Juventus and Inter.

- Leicester City are considering offering defender Christian Fuchs a new deal, according to the Daily Mail. Fuchs is out of contract at the end of the season.

Juventus president Andrea Agnelli says the Italian champions have given thought to one day hiring Pep Guardiola, but feels it would be difficult for them to land the Manchester City boss.

Agnelli explained Juventus have contemplated the prospect of the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich head coach moving to Italy, while stressing a move now would be difficult due to his apparent happiness in the Premier League.

Juve in turn are thrilled with their progress under Maurizio Sarri, who joined them from Chelsea at the start of the season.

"It is heresy to say that you don't think of Guardiola, but you have to evaluate the moment you are in, like any professional," Agnelli said to Radio24 about the City boss, who has re-emphasised his commitment to the English club despite their two-year Champions League ban, which they intend to appeal.

"If someone is happy where he is, it is difficult to move.

"We are very happy with Sarri. Things are set up for three years, the strength of his ideas will come with their continuation in time, and this is the priority.

"The first half of the season has been excellent, we are first in the standings and we passed the Champions League group stage in first.

"I will evaluate the season at the end, thinking that I can win in February is foolish, but being first today is a good starting point."

Agnelli was asked if he was tempted to instead land former coach Antonio Conte, who ultimately joined Inter, when he was replacing Massimiliano Allegri.

"We wanted Maurizio Sarri and we took Sarri," said Agnelli. "Conte is a symbol of Juventus; he has won multiple Scudetti and the Champions League.

"Conte is Juventus from this point of view. We have a peaceful relationship with him, but we are professional.

"That he took on the challenge of bringing ambitious Inter back to the winners' circle, rubbing heads with [Inter chairman] Steven Zhang, who is a person I know and respect, is something that fascinates me."

Pep Guardiola labelled Real Madrid the kings of the Champions League as the former Barcelona boss prepares to lead his Manchester City side against the club he wants to emulate.

City travel to the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday for their Champions League last-16 first-leg clash with Zinedine Zidane's Madrid and Guardiola highlighted the relative inexperience of his players when it comes to winning European titles.

Madrid emerged as champions in four of the last six editions of the Champions League and have retained many of the players who spearheaded those triumphs, while Claudio Bravo and Scott Carson are the only City players to have won the competition.

City manager Guardiola cast aside his intense rivalry with Madrid, which dates back to his time as Barca head coach, and told reporters: "I have an incredible admiration for this club.

"The players who have played there have played so many times in the [Champions League] final and I don't know how many times each one has lifted it.

"Maybe Claudio [Bravo] has won the Champions League and someone else. We don't have many players who have won it. But we need the desire to win it and be ourselves, We could win it or lose it.

"But we must be ourselves in the 180 minutes against Real Madrid. It is the real, real test."

Madrid face City having failed to win either of their last two matches and Zidane's men will be under pressure to recover from a 1-0 LaLiga defeat at Levante on Saturday.

In contrast, City go into the game on the back of two straight Premier League wins without conceding a goal, but Guardiola said Madrid's historic success in the Champions League would be a factor in the tie.

"You have players who come to Madrid and pull on the shirt, they know they are defending their history," said Guardiola, who won the Champions League twice as coach of Barcelona. "That makes an extra thing. Not just the spectators and media.

"They are the club we want to emulate and imitate and we have to be there. I want to go there and at the end of the game I want to say 'we were what we are'. This is the most important thing in these types of competitions.

"We need to go and try and do it at one of the biggest, nicest and most prestigious stadiums. After that, we will try with our weapons and try to score the goals. If we cannot, we will congratulate them and try and improve for the next time.

"For us being here is exciting, so good and we will try to do our best, knowing we play against a team who have won 13 Champions Leagues and it is a king."

Eden Hazard's availability for Real Madrid's crunch fixtures against Manchester City and Barcelona appears in doubt after Zinedine Zidane admitted his latest injury "doesn't look good".

The Belgium forward hobbled off in the second half of the 1-0 loss to Levante on Saturday and he could be seen on the bench receiving treatment on his lower right leg.

Hazard only recently returned from a fractured right ankle so the sight of him appearing to have another problem in the same area was alarming for Zidane.

Madrid face Pep Guardiola's City in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Wednesday before a Clasico date with new LaLiga leaders Barcelona next weekend.

"It doesn't look good," Zidane told reporters at a news conference.

"It can become weak where you've had an injury. It is a blow, let's see.

"It's sore now but we'll see tomorrow when we do more tests."

It was a thoroughly miserable outing for Madrid as they suffered a surprise defeat thanks to Jose Luis Morales' stunning late effort.

Madrid drew 2-2 with Celta Vigo at home in their previous outing and they will host Barcelona next Sunday knowing they are now two points behind their great rivals in the title race.

Captain Sergio Ramos revealed the level of frustration he was feeling in a social media post.

"We're p***ed off," he wrote on Twitter.

"But we can't allow our heads to drop.

"We have to reset now and tomorrow push harder than ever before for a very important week. We're counting on you."

Eden Hazard hobbled off during Real Madrid's LaLiga game at Levante on Saturday - giving Zinedine Zidane a major injury concern ahead of a crucial week for the club.

The Belgium international, who has only recently returned from a fractured ankle, was clearly in pain as he was replaced by Vinicius Junior in the 67th minute with the score at 0-0.

Hazard could be seen sitting on the visitors' bench receiving treatment to his lower right leg, with Zidane now waiting to discover the full extent of the problem ahead of two huge home fixtures.

Madrid, who went on to lose 1-0 to Levante, host Manchester City on Wednesday in the first leg of their last-16 Champions League tie, followed by the visit of title rivals Barcelona in league action next Sunday.

Hazard was making just his second outing since requiring surgery on his right ankle after he was hurt against Paris Saint-Germain on November 2.

His debut campaign in the Spanish capital got off to a delayed start following a thigh injury in pre-season, forcing him to wait until September 14 to make his debut following his arrival from Chelsea in June.

Leicester City boss Brendan Rodgers insisted his side were denied a "clear penalty" in Saturday's 1-0 defeat to Manchester City at the King Power Stadium.

The hosts had a couple of appeals turned down in the first half for Ederson's challenge on Kelechi Iheanacho and a possible handball against Kevin De Bruyne.

Whereas De Bruyne got away with blocking James Maddison's free-kick with his arm, the officials pointed to the spot at the other end for a similar incident involving Dennis Praet.

Rodgers agreed referee Paul Tierney was right to award the visitors a penalty, which Sergio Aguero failed to convert, but felt Leicester should also have been given one of their own.

"[Praet] has gone to block it and it's a penalty - we accept that. But you hope you get them for you as well," he told Sky Sports.

"But we're disappointed we didn't get a penalty - it's so clear. I felt it was the reason VAR was brought in. 

"The ball was going towards the goal, the corner, and Kevin De Bruyne stops it. He's lifted his arms up. 

"If you look at the reaction of the other players in the wall, their hands were down. It's handball."

Kasper Schmeichel kept the champions at bay for large parts of the game by producing a string of fine saves, including a penalty save to frustrate Aguero.

City have now missed their last four top-flight penalties, each by a different player, but they were rescued by substitute Gabriel Jesus' late strike three minutes after he was introduced.

"They are incredibly quick with Jamie Vardy, Harvey Barnes and Kelechi," Guardiola said at his post-match news conference.

"It was an incredible test for us. I'm so pleased for the victory."

Guardiola's side face Real Madrid on Wednesday for the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie and the Catalan coach has been handed a big fitness boost.

Raheem Sterling has missed City's last two games with a hamstring injury, while Aymeric Laporte left the field early in the second half against Leicester, but both men could feature in Madrid.

"[Laporte] asked me to be substituted, but he's not injured," Guardiola said.

"He's been four months, five months injured, we can't forget that. He had to run a lot. It was different against West Ham, we could control it easier. But he's okay.

"Raheem is also much, much, much better. I think he'll be ready."

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