Tedesco: Perfect day required

Schalke head coach Domenico Tedesco accepts his side have to have a 'perfect day' to get anything out of their Champions League clash with Manchester City.

Die Konigsblauen host the first leg of their last-16 tie against the reigning champions of England on Wednesday evening, with the home side going into the game having not won any of their last four Bundesliga matches.

And Tedesco is aware that his team will definitely be the underdogs, but he also said his team deserve to be in the knockout stages, having qualified from a group which also included FC Porto, Galatasaray and Lokomotiv Moscow.

He told reporters: "We are the clear underdogs in the game, that much is obvious, but we deserve to be here because we advanced deservedly from a group of good teams.

"Tomorrow we have to have a perfect day if we are to get anything out of the game."

Schalke are priced at 11/2 to gain a draw on Wednesday, with the visitors 2/7 to win the game and 11/2 to do so by a 2-0 scoreline.

Meanwhile, Serbian defender Matija Nastasic is looking forward to the challenge of facing the Citizens, who he played for between the summer of 2012 and January 2015.

He added on the official Schalke website: "We are facing one of the best teams in the whole of Europe. City basically don't have any weaknesses.

"They score lots of goals, are technically amazing, press effectively and have great players in every position.

"Obviously it's not going to be easy and we know we will go into the game as the underdogs. Despite that, we still have a chance and we will give everything we've got."

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Chiellini talks up Ronaldo impact

Veteran Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini believes the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo could be the key to the club taking the final step in the Champions League.

Despite dominating Italian domestic football for a number of years, Juve have been unable to add to the two European Cup successes they enjoyed in 1985 and 1996.

They reached the final in both 2015 and 2017, losing out to Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively, leaving Chiellini and his colleagues trying to fathom out what they needed to do to make that final step.

However, the Italy central defender thinks the big-money recruitment of former Real superstar Ronaldo could be exactly what they need.

He told Marca: "Ronaldo? His arrival was important. In terms of personality, he covered the void left by (Gianluigi) Buffon's departure. Only a fool would’ve doubted his ability to score goals and provide assists.

"After having dominated in Italy for many years we could have thought we had reached the top, but thanks to Cristiano we are going beyond our limits.

"We have played in two Champions League finals, but we are missing the last step."

Juve have been handed a very tricky tie in the last-16 of the Champions League, where they take on Atletico Madrid, with the first leg in the Spanish capital on Wednesday evening.

A goalless draw on Wednesday is priced at 11/2, with Juve 13/8 to keep a clean sheet, while Ronaldo is 13/10 to score at any time on his return to Madrid.

The two sides last met in the Champions League in late 2014, when the match in Turin ended goalless and Arda Turan scored the only goal of the game in Spain.

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Lampard rebuffs curse talk

Frank Lampard has dismissed talk of February being a curse for Derby County as he looks for his side to jump back into the play-off places.

The Rams boss has been frustrated of late as a run of one win in four matches so far this month has resulted in them dropping into seventh place below an in-form Bristol City outfit.

The poor results are a stark reminder of last season when an eight-match winless run, which started in February, almost cost Derby a top-six finish and in 2017 a run of seven games without a win resulted in them sliding down to 11th place at the end of the season.

Lampard was not at the helm then and he is confident that the current crop of players will return to winning ways soon, starting with Wednesday's visit of struggling Millwall to Pride Park.

Lampard, who is set to be without Mason Mount and Tom Lawrence for the game against the Lions, said: "I don't like the talk, I don't like the idea of any month being a curse.

"The more you look at it the more you give yourself a feeling it'll happen again. I don't entertain it.

"I entertain we have 15 games left, whatever month or day it is, and we have to tackle them head on and have a positive mindset.

"I have no thoughts or opinion on months or whatever, I'll banish talk of that for now."

Lampard is looking forward to facing Millwall as he looks for his players to bounce back from Saturday's 2-1 FA Cup fifth-round defeat at Brighton.

He added: "The clarity is good, we didn't want to get knocked out but we have to accept it. We can focus on the job in hand.

"We're out of the play-off spots but to a degree it's in our hands because it's about how we tackle these 15 games."

Derby, who are 11/2 to be promoted this season, are 21/20 to beat Millwall and jump back into the play-off places, while the visitors are 3/1 to come out on top and the draw is 5/2.

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Gundogan makes Euro win claim

Manchester City can only be classed as one of Europe's elite teams by lifting the Champions League, according to Ilkay Gundogan.

The Citizens have won three Premier League titles, three League Cups and an FA Cup since Sheikh Mansour's takeover in 2008, but European glory has continued to elude them.

Premier League rivals Liverpool defeated them in the quarter-finals of the Champions League last season with their best finish in the competition being a semi-final appearance in 2015-16 when they lost to Real Madrid.

City are preparing to travel to face German Bundesliga side Schalke in the first leg of their last-16 tie on Wednesday night with Gundogan stressing that they must lift the trophy to move up another level in terms of status.

The Germany international said: "If you want to be in the international elite, when you want to be there both as a club and as a player, you need to clinch this trophy.

"You can't go past it, at least in my opinion. I think that, if we were to win it someday, the club would enter a new era.

"(It would be lifted) to the same level as Real, Barca, Bayern or Juventus, clubs that are maybe a step above us. Maybe not in the way they play football, but as a club at least.

"Our job is to try and give it our all to make it a reality someday. We'll try and will hopefully manage that somehow.

"We've experienced a lot in the Champions League in recent years – not all of it positive, of course.

"We should've won it at least once. So as you can imagine, there's a very big drive within us to do something in the Champions League. The biggest low was probably being knocked out by Liverpool last season.

"For that reason, the motivation to go far in this competition is huge and I think we have the quality required."

City, who are 3/1 to win the Champions League this season, are 2/7 to win at Schalke on Wednesday, while the hosts are 10/1 to pick up a first leg leg and the draw is 11/2.

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A Daunting Task: Schalke Welcome a Champions League Terror

Schalke 04 vs Manchester City

It’s been a tough season for plenty of Schalke fans, and the season is still far from over. Their club is dangerously close to the drop zone, and it seems to the neutral fan that even the prospect of the team making the top half of the table is an impossible task in itself.

Fortunately for them, they have seen success in the Champions League after dominating in the group stages. However, it looks like their European excursions are coming to a premature close as they welcome a behemoth of an opponent to VELTINS-Arena.

Champions League 2019 odds heavily favour Manchester City to lift the Champions League trophy, and there’s little doubt as to why bookies gave them such odds. The Sky Blues are a supreme team made up of superb players who are coached by a stellar manager.

This is a story of two extreme trajectories, and it will be interesting to see if Schalke can pull off a miracle at home.

Talking Points

Do we Schalke it up as a loss?

A quick look to Schalke’s standing in the Bundesliga is the easiest barometer to help you understand just how terrible the team has been over the past four months.

It becomes especially baffling if we check the manner in which they dropped points. Embarrassing results against Freiburg, Werder Bremen, and Hertha Berlin aren’t doesn’t help in building any positive atmosphere in the locker room and among the stands. Losing at home to Bayern Munich doesn’t help, either.

Domenico Tedesco is desperate to lead Schalke 04 to victory when they battle Champions League favourites Man City

Schalke 04 manager Domenico Tedesco gestures to his players during their Bundesliga battle with Freiburg

The reason for their struggles in the season can be traced back to their inability to consistently score goals. You know that there’s trouble in Domenico Tedesco’s paradise when his squad’s top scorer is his right-back.

Fortunately for them, their poor run of form domestically has not affected their Champions League campaign. They could count themselves lucky to be playing alongside Porto, Galatasaray, and Lokomotiv Moskva in Group D. They quickly established themselves as group leaders and got enough points to help them reach the knockout stages.

However, the lack of a proper attacker is still evident in the European escapades. That is probably why they signed Manchester City youngster Rabbi Matondo to a four-year contract. The City academy product and Wales international would provide a fresh attacking option on the wing.

Things are still dire on their end, though. I believe only a few us fans would take a risk of them getting a positive result.

This is Manchester’s City now

I now ask you to take a look at the Premier League table this time and try to imagine Manchester City dropping points against Schalke. Can’t imagine anything? Because that is physically not possible.

The Sky Blues are the biggest supergroup in European football that many are considering them favourites to achieve the quadruple: bookies tip them to win the league, the league cup, the FA Cup and the Champions League.

The fact that they are not considered one of the round’s most interesting games is as much praise towards City as it is a knock on Schalke. It’s hard to not assume City as the easy winners of the round when you have players such as Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero, and Leroy Sane up front.

Pep Guardiola also has options if he wants to switch things up. Riyad Mahrez, Gabriel Jesus, Bernardo Silva, and David Silva were terrific in the group stages and will be huge problems Schalke’s flaky backline. They will certainly be a part of many Champions League 2019 highlights.

Just what do you do when you have such an impossible team as your opponent?

History

The two clubs have only met each other once, and that was in the 2007/08 Europa League group stage. Benjamin Mwaruwari and Stephen Ireland were the goalscorers in a game that saw City shut out their German rivals.

Their most recent form also tells us just how dominant Manchester City have been this season. Barring their freak loss to Newcastle United last month, the Sky Blues won their last six games in all competitions by at least two goals. The most impressive of the bunch was the 6-0 drubbing they handed Maurizio Sarri’s a week ago.

Meanwhile, Schalke are struggling to find any sort of stability in their form. They have alternated between wins, losses, and defeats in their last six games. Their 4-1 DFB-Pokal triumph over Fortuna Dusseldorf was encouraging, but that was followed up by an inevitable away loss to Bayern Munich and a disappointing tie against Freiburg at home.

Betting Tip

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Schalke 04 vs Manchester City Manchester City Asian Handicap -1.75 @ 2.05
 February 21, 04:00 (GMT+8)

I have to apologise to the most ardent Schalke fans out there, but I just don’t see Manchester United dropping points any time soon.

They are on a good run of form and have better players on their roster. City are succeeding on every front they are fighting in, and that in itself is a testament to how deep their squad is. Meanwhile, Schalke cannot stop opponents from scoring in their own net to save their lives.

I honestly don’t see Schalke stopping any of City’s talented attackers, and we will see evidence of that when they play. Tedesco can employ a three-in-the-back formation with wingbacks on support to try and hamper the City attack.

I still don’t think that would be enough, though. This may sound foolish, but the only way to stop them is to put six on the backline and have the remaining four figure out how to get past Guardiola’s intricate pressing system.

Honestly, just go pick City.

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Sarri plays down fans’ revolt

Maurizio Sarri claims he is not worried about the fans, but returning Chelsea to winning ways after they crashed out of the FA Cup to Manchester United.

The Blues fans made their feelings known to the Italian tactician after goals from Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba condemned the holders to a 2-0 defeat and elimination at the fifth-round stage at Stamford Bridge on Monday night.

Chelsea had won 2-1 at Malmo in the Europa League last Thursday, although the 6-0 drubbing against Manchester City on 10th February was no doubt still fresh in the memory as sections of the supporters turned on Sarri.

The former Napoli coach, who took over from Antonio Conte last summer, recognises that Chelsea must improve but feels the fans will be won over with a run of wins.

The 60-year-old said: "I am worried about the results. Not about the fans.

"I can understand the situation and our fans, because the result wasn't really good. We are out of the FA Cup, so I can understand. But I am worried about our results.

"We were unlucky. In the first half we played better than the opponent and, at the end of the first half, it was 2-0 to them. So we played confused football in the second half. But, in the first half, we played well. We need, of course, more aggression, more determination.

"If we are able to win three or four matches in a row, it will be really very easy (to change the negative mood)."

Sarri has an ideal chance to get back into the good books as Chelsea face Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley on Sunday and they are 12/5 to lift the trophy, while the Citizens are priced at 3/10.

Chelsea are also 5/4 to finish in the top-four of the Premier League and qualify for next season's Champions League.

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Champions League: This Clash Could Be Too Close to Call!

Atletico Madrid vs Juventus

How these clubs would love to get their hands on the Champions League.

Both have provided Champions League 2019 highlights galore in recent years, and they are among the favourites if you study the Champions League 2019 betting odds.

What most of you us followers may not realise, however, is that the mighty ‘Old Lady’ of Turin have not triumphed in the competition since 1996.

It may not seem it, but 23 years is quite a long time ago!

And that creates pressure.

Talking Points

This is the year they want to put that right.

After two defeats in three seasons, their most recent coming at the hands of a Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Real Madrid, Juventus decided to adopt the motto ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’.

They broke the bank last summer to sign the then-33-year-old Ronaldo who has given them a new lease of life, firing them to what looks like an unassailable lead in Serie A.

Yes, they are dominating domestically – the 13-point lead they hold over second-placed Napoli is the biggest Serie A gap by Week 24 since 2006-07.

Yet it is in Europe where their ultimate desire surely lies.

The deal was widely considered a statement of intent by the Bianconeri to end that wait.

With Ronaldo joined by the likes of Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic, Sami Khedira and the defensive doyens of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, they are among the favourites – even if yours truly thinks they will likely fall short again this season.

Ronaldo’s time at Juventus has certainly lived up to expectations with 21 goals and 11 assists so far and, at the age of 34, he remains a player hungry to achieve silverware at the highest level.

He has also tormented Atletico in recent years while at Real, including two goals in Champions League Finals and the most goals in Madrid derbies. He scored two hat-tricks at the Estadio Vicente Calderon, Atletico’s former home.

Atletico Madrid actually have a European trophy to their name this season, but not the one they crave most of all.

Their 4-2 success over city rivals Real Madrid in the early season UEFA Super Cup Final hinted at a special season ahead, following on from their Europa League triumph and La Liga runners-up spot at the end of last term.

However, while they have still performed well, Atletico trail La Liga leaders Barcelona by seven points and it’s highly unlikely they will be able to claw back that deficit in the final three months of the campaign.

In fairness to coach Diego Simeone, the Argentine has helped Atletico overachieve during his stewardship, to such an extent that they are now considered major players at the top table both at home and aboard. This is despite having only a fraction of the resources of some of their rivals.

Will Alvaro Morata prove helpful in their Champions League game with Juventus?

Atletico Madrid forward Alvaro Morata in action against Rayo Vallecano’s Santi Comesana in their recent La Liga clash

Knowing this season’s tournament final will be hosted at their own ground, the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, will either add to the pressure or give them, in the words of star man Antoine Griezmann, ‘extra motivation’ in the competition.

After scoring his side’s winner at the weekend, Griezmann became the club’s fifth-highest goalscorer of all time – he now has 130 goals for Los Rojiblancos and has surpassed former teammate Fernando Torres in the standings.

Alongside him is on-loan Chelsea man Alvaro Morata who will be keen to score against his former side.

The scene is set for a captivating tie, the winners of which will feel confident of progressing further in the competition – perhaps all the way to the final on June 1.

History

Aside from meetings during the UEFA Cup in two successive seasons in the 1960s, these clubs have only met twice since.

Those encounters came in the 2014/15 group stages of the Champions League.

Atletico won 1-0 at home, thanks to an Arda Turan goal, while the tie in Turin ended goallessly. Juventus went onto reach the final that season, losing 3-1 to Barcelona.

Betting Tip

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Atletico Madrid vs Juventus Total Goal 2-3 @ 1.94
January 21, 04:00AM (GMT+8)

The sides are so evenly matched and that is reflected in the betting odds.

In fact, the 1X2 odds could not be closer with Atletico @ 2.69 and Juventus @ 2.73.

The draw @ 3.00 is also indicative of how close this is expected to be.

Likewise, with Asian Handicap betting, you can find odds of Atletico -0.25 @ 2.38 and Juventus -0.25 @ 2.35.

Two teams known for normally being tight in defence is shown by the odds of over 2.25 goals @ 2.25.

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Solskjaer eyes cup recompense

Ole Gunnar Solskajer is looking for some recompense in the FA Cup after Manchester United dumped out holders Chelsea 2-0 to reach the quarter-finals.

The United interim boss made it 11 wins from 13 in charge as first half goals from Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba at Stamford Bridge on Monday night ensured the side booked their place a trip to Wolves in the last-eight next month.

In addition to keeping their cup dream alive, it was the ideal response to last week's 2-0 Champions League defeat against Paris Saint-Germain at Old Trafford.

Solskjaer admitted that a top-four Premier League finish is the priority, but he would like to do well in the FA Cup after United lost last season's final, while he also ended his Red Devils' playing career on a disappointing note in the competition.

The Norwegian said: "You want to see a reaction. There's a balance between being too eager after losing a game, so this was brilliant.

"(Pogba) had a tough game against PSG, but he was probably our best player then. (This) was a great response, playing against one of the best defensive midfielders in the world with (N'Golo) Kante next to him.

"The cross for Ander's goal was fantastic. Then the way he plays the ball out to Marcus and gets into the box for the second was fantastic, too.

"We lost the (FA Cup) final to Chelsea last year. My last game was a loss to Chelsea in the (2007) FA Cup final. We want to get to the final. It'll be a tough away game against Wolves.

"We've got to build on the positives. We play Liverpool next week, but Chelsea, Arsenal and us will fight for that fourth position (in the Premier League). This was about getting through to the next round."

United are 7/2 to win the FA Cup this season, while they are priced at 1/1 to achieve their main aim of a top-four finish.

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Le Fondre wary of Wellington

A-League top scorer Adam le Fondre feels Sydney FC are still in the race for the A-League premiership, ahead of their clash with a Wellington side he rates highly.

The Sky Blues know they are running out of time to make up ground on top two sides Perth Glory and Melbourne Victory.

Their chances of securing the Premiers' Plate for a third consecutive season have taken a big hit over the past two games when they have dropped points to the league's bottom two sides.

Steve Corica's side lost 2-1 to Brisbane Roar at Suncorp Stadium, and needed to come from behind at home last weekend to earn a point in a 1-1 draw with Central Coast.

They'll certainly need to raise their game against the Phoenix, who beat them 3-1 in Sydney earlier in the season.

The head-to-head record is split this season, with the Sky Blues having won 1-0 in the Kiwi capital last month.

"If you're not on your game, they'll punish you," Le Fondre said of Mark Rudan's side. "We've seen that at Kogarah we weren't quite at it and missed a couple of chances early on, they took their chances and it was game over really and we were fighting an uphill battle."

The former Reading striker moved back to the top of the A-League's Golden Boot standings when he scored the equaliser against the Mariners.

However, the two points dropped means they are now 11 points behind Perth albeit with a game in hand.

Both of their remaining meetings with the top two are at home, and le Fondre said of their position: "I don't think we're going to chuck the towel in and go 'here, you can have it'.

"There's no point in saying in eight games time we'll have won all eight – let's just go next game, take care of that and move onto the next game and the next game, build some momentum and assault Perth; that's all you can do."

The Sky Blues are 1/1 to win their game against the Phoenix, who are 5/2, with the draw 13/5.

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Phoenix exercise Taylor option

Former Newcastle United defender Steven Taylor will be staying with Wellington Phoenix for at least another season.

The A-League side have exercised their option on his contract, with Taylor having been one of their best players this term.

The 33-year-old has started in all but one of the Phoenix's 19 matches, his only absence coming when he was ruled out by illness for the 3-0 defeat to Perth Glory earlier this month.

Taylor's now hoping coach Mark Rudan will stay in charge beyond the end of this season as he cited Rudan as a major factor in his decision to stay.

Rudan has been heavily linked with a move to Melbourne expansion club Western United for their inaugural season in 2019/20.

Saying he felt at home in Wellington and was happy with his form, Taylor added: "Mark Rudan was a big reason behind my extension and the belief he has shown in me has been fantastic.

"Speaking to him about what his ambitions were when I first signed here was the main reason why I came and obviously now with how well the team is doing and what the plans are for the future for this football club, it's in good hands."

Rudan said of the experienced central defender: "He has been a prominent figure this year alongside Andrew Durante and I am extremely pleased that he has signed for another year.

"It just shows we're not only building towards finals this year but we are building for next year as well."

The Phoenix are 5/2 to win their next game against Sydney FC, who are 1/1, with the draw 13/5.

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