Pep Guardiola says there is not a striker in world football who has as much intensity off the ball as Manchester City's Gabriel Jesus after the Brazilian played a starring role in Wednesday's win over Real Madrid.

The 22-year-old was chosen ahead of Sergio Aguero for the Champions League last-16 first leg and repaid his manager's faith with a fine display.

Isco's opener on the hour looked handed Madrid the advantage in the tie, but Jesus – starting on the left flank alongside a more central Kevin De Bruyne – pulled City level.

Belgium international De Bruyne then sealed a memorable win from the penalty spot.  

Guardiola was fulsome in his praise of Jesus afterwards, telling a media conference: "There is not one striker in the world who has the intensity without the ball like Gabriel.

"He is a guy who makes incredible runs in behind. He is not an especially good player when he receives the ball to the front, but when he starts from the side to make diagonal runs, he is so fast, so good.

"We decided to play without a proper striker because of the way Madrid defend. They defend a special way. They are so aggressive, man-to-man at the goal-kicks, so high and when this happens you have to make the pitch wide.

"If you don't it's so difficult to put balls in front of Sergio Ramos, [Raphael] Varane, [Luka] Modric and [Federico] Valverde.

"We want to put the balls in diagonals to the wingers as quickly as possible and in the first minutes we suffered but after 15 minutes we got [Ilkay] Gundogan and Rodri involved and more fluidity with that."

Guardiola insists the tie is far from over, though, and says Madrid's rich history in the competition means they are more than capable of turning things around in Manchester on March 17.

"Now, I am pretty sure Zidane and his people will look at what I have done and the second game will be different," he added.

"Today we're happy but the second leg will be close. I'm not worried but still it is not over and if there's one team in the world which can overcome it, with their history, it is Real Madrid.

"Hopefully we can put in a good performance and go through."

Pep Guardiola joked Manchester City's tactics would not be getting praised if they had not won after his side came from behind to beat Real Madrid in the Champions League.

City had the better of a fast-paced first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday, yet Isco's opener on the hour looked set to be handing Madrid the advantage in their last-16 tie.

However, a tactical tweak from Guardiola – who started Kevin De Bruyne in an advanced role and Gabriel Jesus on the left – saw Raheem Sterling enter the fray and spark a late revival.

Sterling's introduction gave De Bruyne license to roam, with the playmaker setting up Jesus' equaliser before the Belgian slotted in a winning penalty with seven minutes remaining.

Sergio Ramos saw red for Madrid as their capitulation worsened, with City holding firm to take a lead back to Manchester for the second leg on March 17.

"Only because we won, it doesn't count if not," Guardiola told BT Sport when asked if it was a perfect gameplan.

"The important thing is the way we played. We came here to win the game and we did it in this stadium, it's just the first part.

"If one team can overcome this situation, it will be [Real Madrid]. Of course, it's a good result.

"I am so proud, but it is just the first part. We have another game, so it is not over. It will be so hard. But be calm, enjoy the moment.

"On Sunday we have [the EFL Cup] final and then keep going in the Premier League and prepare the second game against Madrid."

City missed several chances prior to Isco's opener, which came from a mix-up between Nicolas Otamendi and Rodri, while Kyle Walker also failed to cover himself in glory, and Guardiola acknowledged his team are still prone to too many lapses.

"We were the better side and we conceded a goal that we should not have conceded and then, when Madrid were better, we scored. But that is competition, that is football," he added.

"I remember two seasons ago in the quarter-finals at Anfield we played incredibly well, but [Liverpool] had three shots on target and scored three goals.

"Against Tottenham [last season] we showed incredible personality as well, but we have to improve, we cannot gift them the goal we conceded, but it's part of the game and in the future we will grow."

De Bruyne's winner was his 50th goal in all competitions for City, and the 28-year-old said he and his team-mates are now getting used to Guardiola's tactical tinkering.

"I think in the four years [under Pep] there has always been surprises," De Bruyne told BT Sport.

"We don't sometimes really know until the game starts what we need to do. Some moments were good, we had some lesser moments but in a quality game like this you're going to struggle sometimes, but we fought really well together."

The tension was palpable as Kevin De Bruyne stepped up to take his penalty at the Santiago Bernabeu.

No doubt Manchester City's issues from the spot were going through the Belgian's mind – he had even been asked about the apparent problem after Sergio Aguero's miss against Leicester City was their fourth successive spot-kick failure.

But there needn't have been any worries in the heads of City fans, players or coaching staff. De Bruyne coolly slotted to his left, calmly placing his kick right into the bottom corner with the kind of assuredness we have come to expect from the midfield dynamo.

It was a just reward for an exceptional display from De Bruyne, who was the driving force behind much of City's best moves, laying on an unmatched four key passes.

Understandably De Bruyne will take many of the plaudits following City's impressive 2-1 win at the Santiago Bernabeu, but Gabriel Jesus more than played his part with a selfless, yet similarly crucial role.

The Brazilian was picked ahead of City's all-time leading scorer, Aguero, causing many-an-eyebrow to raise pre-match and concerning some fans after Thomas Muller's recent suggestion Pep Guardiola overthinks his selections ahead of the biggest games.

When asked if it was a reward for scoring the winner against Leicester after replacing Aguero from the bench late on, Guardiola denied it but kept his cards close to his chest.

Although initially appearing to be lining up as a lone frontman, Jesus started the contest from the left and worked tirelessly on the flank, tracking back but also proving a lively presence in attack.

The 22-year-old ended up with four shots – no one on the pitch had more – despite being asked to play such a role, one akin to the job Wayne Rooney was often tasked with performing for Manchester United on the biggest occasions.

Jesus' locale on the left actually led to him carving out the first chance of the match as he darted into the box from his wide position, cut inside Sergio Ramos and shot at Thibaut Courtois.

On this occasion the finish didn't quite live up to the build-up play.

Playing from the left is by no means a new phenomenon for Jesus, having done so on many occasions as a youngster with Palmeiras and Brazil's youth teams.

But performing such a role in the Champions League, away to Real Madrid, is an entirely different kettle of fish.

Jesus' work ethic was highlighted by the fact no one on the pitch engaged in more duels (14) than him. Eight players were involved in 10 or more, but none came out on top more often than the City forward (57 per cent).

He also completed two tackles, a figure bettered by no one, and two interceptions – only three players made more.

But to only focus on that side of Jesus' performance would be doing him a huge disservice.

De Bruyne was the single player to produce more than Jesus' three key passes, while he was there in the right place at the right time to score City's equaliser.

Peeling away from Ramos and cheekily giving him a slight nudge to maximise the space, Jesus headed De Bruyne's 78th-minute delivery into the ground and the bounce helped in deceiving Courtois as the Brazilian made light of the cross' lack of pace.

He might have got himself a second goal as he darted in behind Ramos four minutes from time, but he at least succeeded in luring the Spanish centre-back into earning the 26th red card of his professional career.

Guardiola made a bold move in selecting Jesus ahead of the ever-reliable Aguero, but the Argentinian could never have produced a comparable display in such a role.

Jesus more than justified Guardiola's faith – his industriousness and work ethic effectively inspiring one of the most famous results in City's history.

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola surpassed Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti for the most wins by a manager in the Champions League knockout stage.

Guardiola's side came from behind to stun Real Madrid 2-1 in the first leg of their last-16 tie at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday.

A two-time Champions League winner while at the helm of Barcelona, Guardiola made history courtesy of City's victory.

It was his 28th win in the Champions League knockout stage, moving him past Ferguson, Mourinho and Ancelotti, who all have 27.

Guardiola also became the manager with the most wins (10) against Madrid in all competitions in the 21st century, surpassing Ernesto Valverde and Diego Simeone.

Manchester City completed a stunning comeback at the Santiago Bernabeu as Kevin De Bruyne's penalty secured a 2-1 victory over Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

Despite being the better side for much of a frenetic encounter in Spain, City – who lost Aymeric Laporte to injury in the first half – looked set to be heading for a defeat when Isco put Madrid ahead on the hour.

But De Bruyne, a peripheral figure in the first half, led the fightback, supplying the cross from which Gabriel Jesus headed home an equaliser before coolly slotting in from 12 yards after Dani Carvajal had brought down substitute Raheem Sterling.

And Madrid's frustrations were compounded with four minutes remaining, captain Sergio Ramos seeing red for a last-man challenge on Jesus as City secured a lead to take back to Manchester.

Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero have been named on the bench by Pep Guardiola for the first leg of Manchester City's Champions League last-16 tie with Real Madrid.

Sterling has missed the majority of February due to a thigh strain, but Guardiola confirmed on Tuesday the 25-year-old – who has five Champions League goals to his name this season – would be fit to return at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The England forward has only been deemed fit enough to take a place among the substitutes however, and he is joined on the bench by City's leading scorer, Aguero.

Gabriel Jesus, who replaced Aguero and scored the winning goal against Leicester City on Saturday, starts up front in one of two changes to City's team – the Brazil international has scored four goals in five Champions League games this term.

Jesus' compatriot Fernandinho is a surprise omission, with Nicolas Otamendi partnering Aymeric Laporte at the back.

Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane, meanwhile, has made three alterations to his side following a 1-0 defeat at Levante last time out.

Toni Kroos is replaced by Federico Valverde in midfield, while Ferland Mendy is in for Marcelo at left-back and the injured Eden Hazard makes way for Vinicius Junior, who is preferred to Gareth Bale.

Karim Benzema leads Madrid's line and will become the sixth player to make 100 Champions League appearances for the club, with Sergio Ramos making a record 124th start.

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."

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."

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."

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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