Monday 16 July 2018

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Pellegrini happy to be facing Madrid return with Barcelona 'barrier' out of the equation

Manuel Pellegrini (Reuters)
Manuel Pellegrini (Reuters)

James Ducker

Manuel Pellegrini claimed last night that Real Madrid did not hold the same fear as Barcelona as he expressed relief that the biggest "barrier" to winning the Champions League had been removed.

The Manchester City manager said he did not celebrate Barcelona's quarter-final exit to Atletico Madrid on Wednesday but was adamant that playing Real in the semi-finals was preferable to facing the team who knocked his side out of the competition at the round-of-16 stage in the past two seasons.

City's pairing with Real will mean Pellegrini renews acquaintances with the club who sacked him after one season, despite a record-breaking campaign, and the Chilean believes most of the pressure will be on the Spanish giants.

"I did not celebrate (Barcelona going out), no, but if you ask me do I not prefer to play against them? I prefer not to play against them," said Pellegrini, whose team beat Paris Saint-Germain in the quarter-finals.

"It wasn't a mental barrier. It was a Barcelona barrier. With the players they had at that moment they were a better team than our team. (Barcelona and Real) are two different teams. The Champions League is always important but at Real Madrid you must win a title. There are no favourites, it's exactly the same, both teams have the same options.

"Maybe another way of thinking is it's easier to say, 'No, they (Real) have all the pressure because they are a big team and we are invited only to the semi-final', but I don't think that is the way.

"We have the same options (chance) as Real Madrid. We are going to play against them like we always do, thinking as a big team and we are going to try and score here the most amount of goals we can so I hope this team can reach the final this year."

If Pellegrini was pleased with the draw, though, so too was Zinedine Zidane, the Real coach, who saw his side overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit against Wolfsburg to progress 3-2 on aggregate. The alternative for Real would have been a meeting with Atletico, their cross-city rivals who they beat to win the European Cup two seasons ago, or Bayern Munich.

"I don't agree that Madrid always get the easy draws," Zidane said. "We have seen that in a so-called easy game (against Wolfsburg) we lost 2-0. It was a difficult game. I don't want to listen to that (suggestions City will be easy). Roma, Wolfsburg and now City are very good teams.

"Real Madrid are always the favourites it's always been that way and always will be - but it doesn't bother us. We know how difficult it is to play a quarter-final and we know it's even harder to play a semi-final.

"It's going to be a very difficult tie, a brutal tie. The only thing that's positive is that we are playing the second leg at home."

Pellegrini spent the 2009/'10 season at Real before being dismissed after they missed out on the title by three points to Barcelona, even though he amassed a then club record 96 points and saw his team score 102 goals. But while the Chilean insists he nurses no bitterness over his exit, he is adamant that the majority of Real supporters wanted him to stay.

"It was very unlucky to lose that league with 96 points and 102 goals but the most important thing was that we didn't win a title, which in Real Madrid is very difficult (to stomach)," Pellegrini said. "But 75pc of supporters wanted me to stay."

City face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge this evening, when Kevin De Bruyne returns to the club who sold him to Wolfsburg before his £55m move to Manchester, and then travel to Newcastle United three days later as they attempt to consolidate their place in the top four.

Vincent Kompany has been ruled out of the Chelsea match but Pellegrini is hopeful his captain will be fit to start at St James' Park as the defender prepares to return from his fourth calf injury of the season.

Liverpool have been drawn to face Villarreal in the semi-finals of the Europa League after their heroic comeback defeat of Borussia Dortmund on Thursday night. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Champions League semi-final draw: Manchester City v Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid v Bayern Munich (Ties to be played on April 26/27 and May 3/4)

Europa League semi-final draw: Shakhtar Donetsk v Sevilla, Villarreal v Liverpool (Ties will be played on April 28 and May 5)

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