Saturday 22 October 2016

Raheem Sterling ready for an all-action start to the new season

Published 05/08/2016 | 11:36

Raheem Sterling is expecting a tough test against Steaua Bucharest
Raheem Sterling is expecting a tough test against Steaua Bucharest

Raheem Sterling is confident Manchester City can cope with their hectic start to the new campaign.

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City are set to head to Steaua Bucharest in the first leg of their Champions League play-off round just days after kicking off the English Premier League season at home to Sunderland.

After finishing fourth under Manuel Pellegrini, City - now with new boss Pep Guardiola at the helm - must earn their right to again take their place among the elite clubs of European football in the lucrative group stages as they look to go one better than last season's semi-final

However, there will be little downtime for Guardiola's squad, who finish their pre-season friendlies against Arsenal in Gothenburg on Sunday.

City begin the new domestic campaign with the visit of Sunderland on August 13, which kicks off in the 5:30pm slot on Saturday.

With the first leg in Romania on Tuesday August 16 followed by a lunchtime trip to Stoke on August 20 ahead of the return European tie back at the Etihad Stadium four days later, Sterling accepts the City players will have to refocus quickly to make sure the campaign is not derailed before it has a chance to build momentum.

"It is right in at the deep end, with three massive games and ones in which we will try to get the result," the England winger said on the club's official website.

"The first game at home against Sunderland is a massive one to kickstart our new season, hopefully we get a few wins and make our spirit be right out there.

Sterling added : "It is a good draw for us, but I think it will be a difficult one, away first.

"For them (Steaua) to be in that draw must mean they are a top team. Over the coming week, the manager will definitely show us more on them, so there is loads of homework to do in preparation for the game.

"But we just need to play our football and hopefully can win.

"We just need to try to get a result over there, then come back to hopefully take the win.

Guardiola is a two-time Champions League winning coach with Barcelona, but his Bayern Munich side lost in the semi-finals for each of the past three seasons.

City are out to secure a place in the group stages for what would be a sixth straight campaign.

Steaua, European Cup winners in 1986, were runners-up behind Astra Giurgiu in the Romanian top flight and defeated Sparta Prague in the third qualifying round.

For Steaua coach Laurentiu Reghecampf, this was the tie to avoid.

He said on "I wanted any team but City. We will have a positive approach and let's see what will be. We have a chance and for sure our players will have extra motivation."

In the other side of Friday's draw, Celtic were handed a tie against Israeli side Hapoel Beer-Sheva.

Brendan Rodgers' men beat Kazakh team Astana in the third qualifying round.

Dundalk, meanwhile, are aiming to become the first team from the Republic of Ireland to qualify for the group stage of the Champions League and will face Legia Warsaw of Poland as reward for a shock victory over BATE Borisov.

The Lilywhites, who currently lead the League of Ireland, were the team with lowest coefficient rating in the draw and will play their home leg on August 17 at the 51,700-seater Aviva Stadium in Dublin, rather than at the 4,500-capacity Oriel Park.

The 10 play-off winners will join 22 automatic entrants in the group stage, which will include English champions Leicester for the first time.

Elsewhere, other notable ties see Porto, who won the tournament under Jose Mourinho in 2004, face Italian side Roma while Villarreal play Monaco, with the losers set to go into the Europa League.

Press Association

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