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."

Jurgen Klopp believes the pain of a rare defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday showed Liverpool are a successful team.

The Reds have not been beaten in the Premier League all season, dropping points only once in a draw against Manchester United, and lead the table by a remarkable 22 points as they close in on a first top-flight title since 1990.

Klopp's men have their work cut out to defend their European crown, though, after going down 1-0 to Atleti at the Wanda Metropolitano in the first leg of their last-16 tie.

Liverpool return to Premier League action against West Ham on Monday, yet the disappointment of their loss - compared by Klopp as going "from sunshine to hardest rain" - is a motivating factor as the leaders aim to bounce back.

"[The West Ham game] is to put things right, just not in the [same] competition," Klopp told a pre-match news conference on Friday.

"Yes, we lost the [Atletico] game, and there was absolutely no positive in it - we lost the game. But it's important, if there's any help in that result, that it was a defeat and it felt like a defeat.

"It felt after the game like a defeat, it felt the next morning like a defeat. There was nothing, 'Oh, but in the league we are like this'.

"What we said after the game, 'It's not done yet', is the truth. But it's not like we say, 'Anfield alone will sort it'. We have to put a proper performance in.

"Atletico showed obviously a lot of passion, desire, stuff like this, for the result. They were fighting for the result, 100 per cent.

"But to put it right is to get the other feeling back, the other feeling I don't think we have lost, about how a win feels.

"We won a few games and now we lost it, and the difference is massive. It's much more than three points. It's really from sunshine to hardest rain - and that's how it should be.

"If you really want to be successful, if you could be successful, if we could have been in that game, then it has to feel really bad.

"So yes, we have to put things right, even when it's a different competition."

Jurgen Klopp says Liverpool feel "lucky" captain Jordan Henderson has only been ruled out for three weeks with a hamstring injury.

Henderson sustained the problem in Liverpool's Champions League last-16 first-leg defeat to Atletico Madrid in midweek.

However, rather than ruling the England international out of the run-in as Liverpool look to secure their first Premier League title and a second consecutive European crown, the relatively mild issue should see a return in mid-March.

Henderson, who is considered to be among the contenders to be named PFA Player of the Year, appears set to miss the second leg against Atletico at Anfield on March 11.

The Reds have favourable-looking league fixtures coming up against West Ham, on Monday, Watford and Bournemouth, although they also play Chelsea in the FA Cup and visit Merseyside rivals Everton immediately after the Atletico game. Henderson could well return for the derby.

"It could have been worse. We all know it was a hamstring thing," Klopp told a news conference of Henderson on Friday.

"There are a lot of different hamstring injuries around in the Premier League - Harry Kane, for example, stuff like that. It's not that bad.

"He will be out for three weeks or so, which is not cool. But how we see it is that we're lucky."

While Henderson's absence is a significant setback, Klopp feels Liverpool are well-stocked in midfield, although Xherdan Shaqiri is "not close to team training".

"Hopefully nothing else happens," the manager added. "Hendo is exceptionally important, not only football-wise but for some other reasons as well that hopefully everybody knows.

"Yes, we still have options there. That's good. There's a chance for all of them, but there would have been a chance anyway. Hendo would not have played all the games from now until the end of the season.

"It's a position where we can react, so we will react."

Liverpool have a 22-point lead at the top of the league with just 12 games remaining, but Klopp suggested he was not looking to rest players against West Ham in order to prevent further injuries.

"I could [make changes] because, apart from Hendo, all the other boys are fit," he said. "But Tuesday to Monday, there is absolutely no need to do it. That's longer than we usually have.

"We will see who will start and stuff like this, maybe there will be changes, but not because of the Atletico game."

Head coach Quique Setien does not expect Barcelona's focus to waver over a key run of games despite a series of off-field controversies.

Barca face Eibar on Saturday before visiting Napoli in their Champions League last-16 first leg in midweek and then taking on LaLiga title rivals Real Madrid in El Clasico on March 1.

The forthcoming schedule represents a make-or-break stretch in the season for Setien's side, who are a point behind Madrid in the table.

Yet a number of incidents away from the pitch have overshadowed the early weeks of Setien's tenure.

Director of football Eric Abidal suggested the players had not been working for previous coach Ernesto Valverde prior to his January dismissal, prompting a strong response from captain Lionel Messi.

Barca then denied allegations made by Spanish radio network Cadena SER this week that they hired a company to damage the image of key figures associated with the club, including Messi, by spreading negative messages on social media platforms.

But Setien is not distracted said ahead of the Eibar game: "You'd think it might affect us, but the reality is it's not like that.

"We're very focused on what we need to focus on. We're focused on football matters, we have a lot to focus on. We know what goes on, but I can assure you it doesn't influence anything.

"We're focused on our objective, which is to win games, play well and allow the fans to enjoy themselves. Anything other than that really doesn't affect us."

And Setien confirmed president Josep Maria Bartomeu had discussed the latest issue with senior players.

"Everything the president says is accepted. He told us exactly the same as what he said everywhere," he said. "I'm not thinking about that anymore."

Setien was reluctant to discuss the clash with Napoli but was asked about Messi's suggestion in a wide-ranging Mundo Deportivo interview that Barca were not ready to compete for the Champions League this season.

"There are things that I agree with and things that I'm not in agreement with," Setien said. "In the past 20 years, we have won a lot of Champions Leagues.

"We've got the same chance of winning as other teams have. There's no room for error. There are things we need to try to improve and that we need to do well. That's clear.

"We're not happy with everything, but I think we're growing gradually and reaching a level that will allow us to compete, definitely, with every team."

Barca controversially signed Martin Braithwaite from Leganes this week, following long-term injuries to Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele, and the new man has gone straight into the squad for the Eibar game.

"He's come here with a lot of excitement and a lot of desire," Setien said of Braithwaite. "We hope that he can help us a lot."

Also in with the chance of a first-team debut is Barcelona B left-back Sergio Akieme, who joined the club from Rayo Vallecano in September.

The 22-year-old has been called up to provide cover for Junior Firpo after Jordi Alba injured his right adductor last weekend, potentially making the Spain international a doubt to face Madrid.

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."

Lucas Moura has warned Tottenham must not feel sorry for themselves over a lack of striking options and vowed Jose Mourinho's can still make a success of their campaign.

Spurs lost Harry Kane to a likely season-ending hamstring injury on New Year's Day and Son Heung-min is also in danger of missing the rest of 2019-20 after needing surgery on a fractured arm.

Head coach Mourinho said after the 1-0 loss to RB Leipzig in the opening leg of their Champions League last-16 tie that Tottenham are "really in trouble" due to a lack of bite up front.

Lucas was tasked with leading the line alongside Dele Alli in Wednesday's match and insists he will continue giving his all to fill the void left by Kane and Son.

"We lose two big strikers but we cannot cry," he said, quoted by several British newspapers. "That's the game. Every team has problems such as this.

"I will give my best to score goals. I will give 100 per cent and we will go into the second leg with Leipzig with a strong mentality. We have the quality to go there and qualify."

Timo Werner's penalty gave Leipzig a deserved 1-0 win at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, leaving Mourinho's men with a mountain to climb in the return leg on March 10.

However, Tottenham defied the odds in reaching the final last season and Lucas - who played a key role in that magical run - is not giving up hope of another memorable comeback victory.

"We can turn it around, the game is not over," he said. "It is a result we did not want. We did well with the system we chose to play.

"We had opportunities to score. We lost the game, but it's not over. We will prepare well and I am sure we are capable to go there and qualify.

"We know that in football everything can happen and we will not give up. We need to believe and that’s what I do every time.

"I believe in God. I believe in myself. I believe in my team-mates. We work hard and see what will happen."

Gennaro Gattuso has confirmed Napoli could be without key defender Kalidou Koulibaly for next week's Champions League game against Barcelona.

Injuries have hampered the Senegal international this season and he has only played one Serie A match since the turn of the year.

Napoli head to Brescia on Friday before hosting Barca four days later in the first leg of their last-16 tie with the LaLiga champions.

And Gattuso, whose side have won five of their past six games in all competitions, is unsure whether Koulibaly will be available.

"We'll need to objectively see what he has," Gattuso told reporters on Thursday. "He has swelling, so we need to listen to how he feels. 

"Right now I have opted, together with the medical staff, to keep him sidelined for seven to 10 days.

"We will evaluate after that how he feels physically. He will tell us how he feels."

Napoli's improved form has lifted them to ninth in Serie A but they are 12 points behind fourth-placed Atalanta in the race for Champions League qualification.

Gattuso is staying focused on the trip to second-bottom Brescia - with Koulibaly not included in the Napoli squad - rather than allowing the looming Barca game to act as a distraction.

"I haven't heard anyone talk about Barcelona," Gattuso added. "We haven't prepared for Barcelona yet. We have prepared for the match against Brescia. We will think about Barcelona on Saturday after the analysis of the match against Brescia."

Napoli striker Fernando Llorente will miss the Brescia game due to flu.

Toby Alderweireld called on Tottenham to draw inspiration from their Ajax heroics in a bid to turn around their Champions League last-16 tie against RB Leipzig.

A depleted Spurs succumbed to a 1-0 home defeat in Wednesday's first leg, with Timo Werner's second-half penalty earning Leipzig a deserved lead to protect.

It leaves Tottenham facing an uphill task to make the quarter-finals, but they have recent history of turning around Champions League ties having knocked out Ajax in the last four of the 2018-19 competition when trailing 3-0 on aggregate before mounting a late revival.

Spurs also beat Borussia Dortmund and scored three times at Manchester City in the knockout stages of their run to the final and centre-back Alderweireld insists all is not lost.

"We are still in it. Of course we wanted a better result, but we know we have the quality to win everywhere we want," he said.

"Something we proved last season is that we can score everywhere. Of course we will need a little bit of luck, but it is the first half. The second half is yet to come.

"I think it was a difficult game. You can see they have a lot of quality. We stayed in the game and I think the second half was much better than the first.

"We were unfortunate that we could not score a goal. It is all to play for."

Jose Mourinho's side were hindered by the loss of Son Heung-min, who has joined Harry Kane on Spurs' injury list.

Lucas Moura and Dele Alli led the line in their absence, but Alderweireld says the team must take collective responsibility to deal with the loss of their two key attackers.

"People have to take responsibility about that. I think we have to solve this as a team," he added.

"I think people have to step up - not one [person]. One game it will be one guy and in the other game it will be someone else.

"We don't have to stare blind at this result. I think we created a couple of chances against a very good opponent."

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."

RB Leipzig head coach Julian Nagelsmann explained the mix-up that led to his players wearing different shirts during their win over Tottenham.

Timo Werner's 58th-minute penalty saw Leipzig overcome Spurs 1-0 in London in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Wednesday.

However, there was confusion as fans spotted the front-of-shirt sponsor was different from one Leipzig player to the next, with some white and others red and yellow.

"On the way from the hotel the kit wasn't complete in the different boxes," Nagelsmann told a news conference.

"It wasn't on the bus, and that's why there was a bit of a mix-up. It'll certainly be sorted out for the second leg. We'll have the right kit."

Werner's spot-kick gave Leipzig a deserved victory heading into the second leg of the last-16 tie against last season's runners-up.

Nagelsmann was pleased with his side's performance and felt they could have an even bigger advantage ahead of the home leg on March 10.

"I think it was tricky in the end because we didn't score the second goal," he said.

"In the game, over the 90 minutes, in the first half we controlled the game bar one chance from [Steven] Bergwijn. We had a lot of good possession and we played in a very mature way in the first half.

"We really should have taken the lead in the first five minutes. Young teams become impatient and think you have to score a goal away in the first leg of the Champions League tie but they weren't like that. They were more patient and defended well against Tottenham's counter-attacking game.

"I think [Lukas] Klostermann had a very good game and I think the players performed well.

"In the second half, we controlled the game up until the 75th minute. We should have scored again, with two or three really good attacks. Then it's normal.

"Tottenham have [Erik] Lamela and we are a bit tired and we ended up with one goal. It was exciting, we gave our all, Peter [Gulacsi] made a couple of good saves but they were from efforts 25 metres out. In the end we defended well at a corner.

"Over the 90 minutes we deserved the win – and we could have won by more."

Josip Ilicic said Atalanta are "no longer a surprise" after putting one foot in the Champions League quarter-finals with a crushing win over Valencia.

Champions League debutants Atalanta continued their fairytale run by routing Valencia 4-1 in the opening leg of the last-16 tie at San Siro in Milan on Wednesday.

Atalanta, who lost their opening three group matches this season, put the Spanish visitors to the sword courtesy of Hans Hateboer's brace and goals from Ilicic and Remo Freuler.

"We prepared this game the same way we always do and had a great first half, allowing them practically nothing. It's a pity we conceded that away goal, but Valencia are a strong team and we forced them to play badly with our football," Ilicic, who scored a stunning goal to make it 2-0 approaching half-time, told Sky Sport Italia.

"We knew their centre-backs didn't push up much, so that's why the coach chose me with Papu Gomez up front. We were very dangerous, especially in the first half, but we can do better.

"Atalanta are no longer a surprise, we've proved so many times that we don't give in. We're doing some really important things here."

Atalanta head coach Gian Piero Gasperini added: "We are on the one hand very satisfied, as we'd have happily accepted a scoreline like that.

"Yet we end up feeling regret over conceding that away goal, as we really shouldn't have made that mistake when 4-0 up and it wasn't the only situation like that.

"We need to be more precise when we go to the Mestalla. If we want to get into the Champions League quarter-finals, we have to play like this at the Mestalla too, prove we deserve to be there with a show of strength and win there too.

"We are a team who create many chances, it could perhaps have had more goals for us and them tonight. We created our goals, they sort of received gifts from us on theirs. We got a bit euphoric and lost sight of our concentration at times.

"We'll analyse now what we got wrong and learn from these errors, as we want to prove in the second leg that we deserve to be there.

"We've got to score there too. We will do some defending, but I don't want us to go to Spain and just sit on a three-goal lead, suffering the entire time."

Denis Cheryshev's 66th-minute consolation gave Valencia some hope ahead of the return leg on home soil and Valencia boss Albert Celades said: "This result doesn't really reflect what we saw on the pitch.

"I think the difference was that Atalanta scored practically every chance they had, which is not an easy thing to do. We didn't score when we had the opportunities. Of course, we made mistakes. When you play at this level against a side like Atalanta, you cannot allow them all that space. We did create our opportunities, though, and that is important for the second leg.

"I think we've got a chance of turning it around. The result is pretty clear tonight, but we'll see what happens at the Mestalla. We play well in our own stadium. We concede too many, especially away from home, there's no denying that. It won't be easy to overturn this situation, but we will try."

Hugo Lloris said Tottenham must dare to dream of another Champions League comeback after a 1-0 home defeat to RB Leipzig.

The first-leg loss in the last-16 tie puts Spurs in trouble, needing to find a big performance when the teams meet again in Germany on March 10.

Timo Werner's penalty settled the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium clash, with Lloris named man of the match by England boss Gareth Southgate after a string of saves that kept Leipzig at bay until the 56th minute.

Injury-hit Tottenham began slowly and three times in the opening 90 seconds Leipzig threatened to open the scoring.

But Spurs improved in the closing quarter of the game and Lucas Moura might have done better with a late header that he sent over the crossbar.

Given their heroics against Ajax in the Champions League semi-finals last year, when Spurs came from 3-0 behind on aggregate to go through on away goals, Lloris knows not to give up hope.

He says Tottenham can "try to create another story".

"I want to stay positive, especially after what we have seen in the last 20 minutes," Lloris said. "Obviously if we had started in the same way we finished, probably the score would have been different, but there's a second leg so we still have options.

"It wasn't the best result, but we have to deal with that. We are still there.

"It's true we have to give a lot of credit for Leipzig. They pressed very high and they're a very, very good team with a lot of energy. They run a lot.

"It's not easy, but we had some situations we could have maybe managed better. But it's football and now we have another big game on Saturday [against Chelsea in the Premier League]."

Tottenham have been hit hard by the loss of star strikers Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, with both players facing a battle to get back onto the field before the end of the season.

It has left head coach Jose Mourinho with a major challenge as he bids to guide the team into next season's Champions League, while also fighting in this term's competition and in the FA Cup.

"With all the circumstances against us in the last few weeks, the last few months, we need to stay positive," Lloris told BT Sport.

"It's not the time to give up or to find excuses. We have to fight until the end. There's plenty of games in front of us. We're not really happy with the result, but we have to deal with that.

"We did it last season so let's hope. With our fans, let's try to create another story."

RB Leipzig star Timo Werner said he was "very proud" to be linked with a move to Liverpool, labelling the Premier League side the world's best.

Werner, 23, has been linked with the European champions after scoring 26 goals in 32 games for Leipzig this season.

The Germany international's second-half penalty helped Leipzig to a 1-0 win over Tottenham in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Wednesday.

Speaking afterwards, Werner discussed the reports linking him with a move to Liverpool and the forward did little to play down a possible switch.

"Liverpool is the best team in the world at the moment and when you're linked with that team it makes me very proud but in case of that it's a pleasure," he told Viasport.

"But I know that in Liverpool play a lot of good players and I have to improve myself to learn much more things to get on this level to play there."

Werner's 58th-minute spot-kick against Spurs in London has Leipzig on track to reach the Champions League quarter-finals.

But the 29-time Germany international warned his side there was work to do against Tottenham, who produced a thrilling comeback away to Ajax in last season's semi-finals.

"Tottenham is a good team, they showed last year that they have the mentality that they can come back in these games," Werner said.

"We have to do the same like today and we have a good start for the first half [of the tie] and we will go on."

Jose Mourinho mounted a passionate defence of his Tottenham stars but admitted they are "really in trouble" on the fitness front after a 1-0 home defeat against RB Leipzig in the Champions League.

Tottenham's first-leg loss in the last-16 tie on Wednesday leaves last season's Champions League runners-up with a major challenge for the second match, which takes place in Germany on March 10.

Timo Werner's penalty for Leipzig settled the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium clash midweek, with the home side struggling to make an impression against the visiting defence until the closing stages.

Losing Harry Kane and Son Heung-min to injuries this year has left Tottenham with a lack of bite in attack, and that showed against Leipzig.

Mourinho even revealed Erik Lamela was thrust into action off the bench despite having been unable to train with the first team after an injury lay-off.

When it was suggested to him that the "real Spurs" showed up in the closing stages of the match, Mourinho was triggered and said: "What do you mean, the real Spurs?

"Come on, let's be loyal to the boys and tell that they did everything they could do."

He outlined the injury strife that has weakened his hand for such big matches, and despite believing Spurs might still turn around the Leipzig tie, Mourinho is worried his remaining fit players will soon tire.

"I thank the fans for their support to the boys and what I'm worried with is not with the 1-0. The 1-0 is an open result. There is the possibility we can go there and win the tie," he told BT Sport.

"What worries me is these are our players for the next I don't know how many matches.

"We have to play in two days again [on Saturday at Chelsea]. You could see Lucas [Moura], absolutely dead; [Steven] Bergwijn, absolutely dead; [Giovani] Lo Celso, dead.

"So we can look at it in two perspectives. One perspective is I'm so proud of them and they did absolutely fantastic. Another perspective is that that's our situation. We are really in trouble.

"What worries me is we have Premier League and FA Cup to play as well and that is our situation."

Mourinho is clearly staggered his players have a 12:30 GMT kick-off against his former club Chelsea on Saturday.

He made that point, speaking to the same broadcaster which will show the Premier League match.

After offering added praise to his players, saying he "couldn't be happier to have guys like them", Mourinho added: "But here we go, and Chelsea [will have been] drinking sparkling water with lemon and watching the game on TV.

"And Saturday morning, thank you very much for the choice."

Atalanta marked their maiden game in the Champions League knockout stages with a resounding 4-1 win over Valencia in the first leg of their last-16 tie at San Siro on Wednesday.

Gian Piero Gasperini's side dominated from the outset against their LaLiga opponents and opened the scoring after 16 minutes, Hans Hateboer claiming his first goal in the competition with a close-range finish.  

Josip Ilicic doubled their advantage shortly before the interval with a fine strike, before Remo Freuler curled home a third from long distance in the 57th minute.

Hateboer then claimed a second five minutes later, and while Denis Cheryshev pulled a goal back for Valencia, the Italian side will be supremely confident of finishing off the job in Spain in three weeks' time.

Atalanta started in blistering fashion and a clean through Mario Pasalic was superbly denied by Jaume Domenech after eight minutes.

There was little the Valencia goalkeeper could do in the 16th minute, however, with Hateboer storming past Jose Gaya to meet Alejandro Gomez's cross and prod his side into a deserved lead from six yards.

That advantage was nearly cancelled out on the half-hour mark when Ferran Torres crashed a powerful effort off Pierluigi Gollini's left-hand post, while Goncalo Guedes fizzed wide from a promising position soon after.

They were punished for those misses three minutes before the interval when Ilicic thundered into the top corner from 18 yards to open his Champions League account. 

Any hopes Valencia had of reining in the hosts were extinguished shortly before the hour mark when Freuler's whipped effort from outside the penalty area flew past the helpless Domenech.

Maxi Gomez somehow failed to score from six yards, before Hateboer sprung the offside trap at the other end to latch onto Pasalic's pass and fire past Domenech, who should have done better.

Cheryshev pulled one back for the visitors in the 66th minute – just two minutes after coming off the substitutes' bench – but it did little to detract from a glorious night for Gasperini's men.

 

What does it mean? Atalanta power past accommodating visitors

Atalanta were utterly ruthless against a Valencia outfit who scarcely knew what had hit them. A place in the last eight looks almost nailed on and they will fancy their chances against any side left in the competition in this form.

If there is a criticism of the Italians, it is that they look vulnerable at the back, as evidenced by the host of chances carved out by Valencia in the closing stages. That will not bother their fans just now, who will be rightly basking in the glow of a truly memorable European night.

Gomez revelling on the big stage

Gomez  is enjoying his first taste of Champions League football at the age of 32. He might not have scored, but he was once again at the heart of Atalanta's effervescent attacking play, regularly leading Valencia's defenders on a merry dance.

Valencia's cause not helped by Domenech

He made a wonderful save early on from Pasalic but it was all downhill from there for the Valencia goalkeeper. He got a weak hand to Ilicic's strike and only he can say what he was trying to do with Hateboer's second goal.

What's next?

Atalanta host Sassuolo in Serie A on Sunday, while Valencia visit Real Sociedad in LaLiga a day earlier.

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