INTERVIEW: Man City ready to reign in Europe says Fernandinho

Alam Khan 15/04/2016
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The Brazilian celebrates with match-winning hero Kevin De Bruyne on Tuesday night.

The Etihad outfit are in the draw for the Champions League semi-finals after overcoming French champions Paris Saint-Germain 3-2 on aggregate in their last-eight tie.

It is the furthest City have ever gone in the competition having been beaten by Barcelona at the last-16 stage in successive seasons.

But Fernandinho believes Manuel Pellegrini’s side now have the brains as well as brilliance not to fear any of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid – who beat Barca – in the battle to be European champions.

“I’m sure any of the teams we are going to play against…I’m not sure if scared is the right word…but they will respect us because if you play in the semi-finals it shows that we have some qualities,” he said.

“The semi-finals of the Champions League is only for the big teams. Of course, we want to go further. Against PSG we showed a different level from the last five years when we played in the Champions League.

“I think we played a very intelligent game, a clever game, especially here at the Etihad [in the second leg]. If you take the first half, PSG didn’t create any chances to score a goal. They had only one effort on target with Zlatan’s free-kick.

“And I think if you want to play in the Champions League at that level you need to have more clever, have more technical play.

“Of course we watch the other teams [to learn from them]. These days it is very easy to watch every game because every game is shown live on TV. But if you take last season when we played Barca in the last 16 we were a little bit unlucky, especially in the home leg.

“They kept possession for a long time, they had a lot of good possession. PSG had a lot of possession too but in defence, not in the middle and not in attack.

“They didn’t create any chances to score until the second half when they scored two goals that were offside. So that shows the intelligent way we played.

“Everyone has learned now, especially the manager because I think for me he was one of the best people to learn that, in time, to do the right thing at the right moment.”

City’s European exploits have drawn similarities with that of Chelsea’s run in 2012.

The Blues also struggled in the Premier League back then, eventually finishing sixth, but triumphed on penalties against favourites Bayern Munich in a final held at the German club’s home ground.

And, as England’s sole survivors in the competition, Fernandinho hopes City will also get the backing of the nation.

“Of course,” added the Brazilian midfielder. “I think you guys in England should be more, I don’t know, be more supportive of your clubs because the Champions League is great because it involves the best teams in Europe and it is the highest quality of football and if an English team is in the semi-finals they deserve that.

“I’m sure when Chelsea got to the semi-finals and reached the final they deserved that and now we deserve that.

“I think it was one of the targets of the club for the last six or seven years and now we are in the semi-final everyone is happy and excited. And to be honest this is a key moment for everyone at the club.”

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#360view: De Bruyne to soar under Guardiola

James Piercy 14/04/2016
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Match-winner: De Bruyne.

As the hype machine began to hum towards the end of the last decade around Belgium’s clutch of young talent for which the tag of ‘Golden Generation’ was naturally bestowed, there was always a feeling within the country that for all the talent of his peers, Kevin De Bruyne was ‘The One’.

Romelu Lukaku’s freakish physical attributes well beyond his years marked him out as unique, while Eden Hazard’s natural athleticism, skillset and the fact he was starring in Ligue 1 as a teenager hinted at a path to greatness. Thibaut Courtois’ temperament, maturity and reflexes also offered several reasons to believe he was going to be a special goalkeeper. De Bruyne was something a bit different; his abilities more intriguing and less obvious.

His road to the top was unlikely to be straightforward and would need the right management and situation. Certainly his former coach at Genk, Franky Vercauteren, thought so when interviewed by Sport360 in 2011 – a month before his former protege moved to Chelsea.

“De Bruyne has always been an interesting player. He can play in several positions and is exceptionally gifted,” the then Al Jazira boss said. “I think it is a very big step for him. He will have problems with the physical power in England… but I’d rather he joined a club a step between.”

And so it came to pass as De Bruyne’s Chelsea career dissolved amid stories of a questionable work attitude and a personal issue with Courtois. But, ultimately, the issue lay with Jose Mourinho and his perception of De Bruyne.

The Portuguese is not a man who traditionally appreciates nuance in a player: defenders defend, midfielders pass and help out their back four, wingers must be quick and track back and strikers should be strong and put the ball in the back of the net regularly. He has no real time for adjectives like mercurial or enigmatic. It’s no surprise De Bruyne’s baby face never fit the Mourinho model.

Physically he stands at 5ft 11ins; neither short enough to be that cliche of a diminutive playmaker nor tall enough to provide a real presence. He’s not quick or strong, does have a tendency to drift out of games – offensively and defensively – and can be wasteful in possession.

Quiet and introspective, on the few occasions he wore a dark blue shirt he looked ill-fitted to the style of play and his role. As Vercauteren forecast, it needed Werder Bremen and Wolfsburg, where he was afforded freedom on the field to develop at his own leisure, to unlock the puzzle of what he is.

And Manchester City are now firmly reaping the benefits, his fine goal against Paris Saint-Germain only confirmation of his status now at the club; while for Belgium he’s arguably been their most consistent player for three years.

It seemed something of a lazy comparison at the time but then Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas declaring in 2011 that he was similar to Enzo Scifo looks incredibly prescient. Scifo prospered for Anderlecht; earned a glamour move to Internazionale where he spectacularly flopped and it took a spell in France with Auxerre to bring out his best to which he then went on to star for Monaco.

Much like his career arc, De Bruyne’s game is about timing. He has a wonderful sense of awareness to know exactly when to release the ball or retain possession and an acute appreciation of space. His passes are also mostly made with intention, ahead of his team-mates.

In the Premier League, only Mesut Ozil (123), Christian Eriksen (102) Dimitri Payet (94) and Willian (74) have created more chances than him (69). De Bruyne, however, has played 488 minutes less than Payet, 637 less than Willian, 848 less than Eriksen and 967 less than Ozil.

What City could have been with him in the side all season is a question which will go unanswered but what’s equally as fascinating is what he can become.

Pep Guardiola is an appreciator of his talents, claiming him being allowed to play at Wolfsburg for 18 months was “madness”.

Given his track record with Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Sergio Busquets, Thomas Muller, David Alaba and Lionel Messi – supremely-skilled individuals he unquestionably improved – Guardiola, in theory, can draw even more out of the Belgian. What we’re seeing now may be only scratching the surface.

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Aguero: City want to give Pellegrini perfect send-off

Alam Khan 14/04/2016
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For the boss: Aguero.

Sergio Aguero claims Manchester City are looking to give boss Manuel Pellegrini the perfect send-off by lifting the Champions League trophy.

The Etihad outfit claimed a historic first appearance in the semi-finals of the competition with a 3-2 aggregate win over Paris Saint-Germain, sealed by Kevin De Bruyne’s strike in Tuesday’s second leg.

For City, it was a much-needed boost following a season where they have faltered badly in the Premier League and doubts raised about their quality and desire to win more trophies.

Pellegrini will be replaced in the summer by Pep Guardiola and Aguero admits there would be no better way to bow out than by leading City to European glory.

Aguero said: “It is important for (Pellegrini) and for all of us. Obviously it is important for him because he knows he won’t be here for next season so I imagine he must be very happy, very pleased. I hope we can go even further.

“The confidence is there, we are in semis and anything can happen. We will be at our maximum, depending on who we play against, but we will be going all out to win it. This was our goal, to be among the four best teams in the Champions League and now we want to keep growing.”

For full-back Bacary Sagna, Tuesday night was an affirmation of City’s development under Pellegrini, the Chilean having brought him to the club in 2014 on a free transfer for Arsenal. Sagna was delighted City were able to answer their many detractors in the best-possible fashion, albeit against a dramatically below-par PSG.

“We gave the best answer to anyone who doubts us by qualifying for the semi-final. As a team we’ve shown we deserve to be one of the best in Europe.

“We had to step up. We could have done better in the Premier League and we still have to look forward to it – we still have to qualify for the Champions League next season.

“But we are still here even though we’ve had some setbacks in the league. We want to fight.

“We were up against a good team, PSG, in a different competition and we had to play well. But it was a good response. We can be glad now because we deserved to go through.

“If anyone wondered which is the best between Ligue 1 and the Premier League they will have seen the Premier League is the best.”

City will find out on Friday who they face in the last four, but Sagna added: “No matter who you are going to face it is going to be hard and we’ll have to show great character. And we’ll have to pull out another great performance.”

Match-winner De Bruyne won’t be satisfied with just a final spot either as he added: “This was one of my bigger nights. It’s up there with other great moments, but what does a semi-final mean? If you lose the final, you can say you’ve been in a final. That’s beautiful of course, but I want to advance.

“It’s all about the titles and the trophies, I want to win those. They give you the best feeling. We’ll do everything to go through. I joined this club to win trophies. It’s has been a season with ups-and-downs, but in the Champions League we’ve been doing well.”

Meanwhile, City have been charged by UEFA after fireworks were set off during Tuesday night’s match.

In November, City avoided disciplinary action for their fans booing the Champions League anthem.

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