Wednesday 21 February 2018

Guardiola set for emotional Barcelona homecoming

Guardiola: 'I am grateful to get this chance to return. It is something very special'
Guardiola: 'I am grateful to get this chance to return. It is something very special'

Jamie Holland

It will, of course, be a love-in, at least until the football starts.

Yesterday Pep Guardiola welcomed the news that he will take his current team, Bayern Munich, to his old one, Barcelona, in the last four of the Champions League with the comment: "I am grateful to get this chance to return. It is something very special."

Guardiola, who won the old European Cup as a player with Barça and the Champions League twice as coach, added: "I cannot say anything bad about Barcelona. I have nothing but respect for Barça. I will never forget these two games. We will need the entire team to beat Barcelona. Believe me, they are the strongest."

Luis Enrique, a former team-mate of Guardiola's, now coach at the Nou Camp, responded: "It is a special game because Pep is there."

"I am very happy for Luis Enrique," Guardiola added. "He is a great coach and a fine human being."

It is only two seasons since the sides met during Guardiola's sabbatical. Bayern stunned Barça with a 7-0 aggregate win but goalkeeper Manuel Neuer insisted that result "doesn't mean much any more, things have changed at both clubs".


Guardiola's homecoming overshadows Carlo Ancelotti's less emotional return to Juventus, where he was sacked in 2001 after two seasons in charge - his dismissal was announced by the club at half-time in the final league game of the season, even though they were still in with a chance of winning the title.

That tie is a repeat of the 1998 final, which was won by Real Madrid, who are bidding to become the first team to retain the Champions League.

The 'Old Lady' have the best record of all the semi-finalists, having progressed to the final on seven of their 10 appearances at this juncture.

"Juventus is a club that has legendary history. They are having a very good season, but we are confident," Ancelotti said.

The Europa League draw was massively simplified for UEFA when Andre Villas-Boas' Zenit St Petersburg were knocked out, thus avoiding the charged prospect of Russian and Ukrainian teams meeting in the Warsaw final.

Rafael Benitez is still on course to leave Napoli in glory with his team favoured to beat Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, who have to play their home matches in Kiev due to the continuing conflict in Eastern Ukraine.

Champions League semi-finals

Juventus v Real Madrid (Tues May 5 and Wed 13)

Barcelona v Bayern Munich (Wed May 6 and Tues May 12)

Final: Saturday June 6 , Berlin

Europa League semi-finals

Napoli v Dnipro, Seville v Fiorentina (Thurs May 7 and May 14)

Final: Wednesday May 27, Warsaw

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