Football: City keen to sew up last 16 spot

Manchester City's Yaya Toure (right) and Kelechi Iheanacho (left) playing a joke on Bacary Sagna during training yesterday. The return from a three-month exile of Toure, who scored both goals in Saturday's 2-1 Premier League victory at Crystal Palace
Manchester City's Yaya Toure (right) and Kelechi Iheanacho (left) playing a joke on Bacary Sagna during training yesterday. The return from a three-month exile of Toure, who scored both goals in Saturday's 2-1 Premier League victory at Crystal Palace, has lifted morale in the camp.PHOTO: REUTERS

Guardiola's men lifted by Toure's return; Messi a rumoured target

BERLIN • Manchester City, buoyed by the return of Yaya Toure and a possibility of landing Lionel Messi in the coming months, will look to seal a spot in the Champions League last 16 at struggling Borussia Monchengladbach today.

Toure, banned by Pep Guardiola following comments by his agent about the manager, returned from a three-month exile to score both goals in City's 2-1 Premier League win at Crystal Palace on Saturday.

Guardiola's decision to restore the Ivorian has further boosted morale, already high with the team just a point behind leaders Chelsea in the league. But he will not play today owing to his omission from the group stage squad list, although the manager has hinted he may be recalled for the knockout stages.

"His personality and his quality are there to see," Guardiola said. "He can play many positions.

"We now have one more man that can help us achieve our targets this season.

"With this intensity, we're going to play in the Champions League."

On Monday, reputable Spanish radio station Cadena COPE reported Guardiola has made former charge Messi his No. 1 target.

LIKE A NEW SIGNING

His personality and his quality are there to see. He can play many positions. We now have one more man that can help us achieve our targets this season.

PEP GUARDIOLA, Manchester City manager, on his prodigal player Yaya Toure.

According to the radio station, the Spaniard has instructed City chief executive officer Ferran Soriano and director of football Txiki Begiristain, both of whom worked with Guardiola and Messi at Barcelona, to convince the 29-year-old Argentinian to join City.

At the weekend, Simon Mullock of the Sunday Mirror reported that City's confidence of striking a deal for Messi has "exploded" recently, and that they have drawn up a plan to sign him which would include a world record fee and a basic wage of £500,000 (S$887,000) a week.

City will advance with a win or draw today. The English club, who crushed Monchengladbach 4-0 at home in September, are second in the group on seven points, three ahead of the German side, and can wrap up qualification with victory in Germany.

A draw will be enough if Celtic lose at home to Barcelona in the other Group C fixture.

Barcelona are top on nine, with Celtic in last place on two.

Gladbach, who also lost at home to City last season, will secure third spot and Europa League action if they draw and Celtic lose.

They still have an outside chance for a top two finish but their last group match is at Barcelona.

The Bundesliga side, however, are stuck in a rut, having failed to win any of their last six league matches, a run in which they have scored just one goal.

Their last victory in any competition dates back to last month in the German Cup.

Coach Andre Schubert, who still has the backing of his bosses but was jeered following Saturday's 1-2 home loss to Cologne, will be without suspended Christoph Kramer and Julian Korb as well as the injured Patrick Herrmann.

"We are just not scoring goals," captain Lars Stindl said. "We are missing the final touch up front and some luck. But we must forget everything, put everything behind and keep together to improve.

"Wednesday's match is completely different, under different conditions. We want to play a good home game, secure third place early. That is our big goal and we believe in our chances. We know what we are capable of."

REUTERS

MONCHENGLADBACH V MAN CITY
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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2016, with the headline 'City keen to sew up last 16 spot'. Print Edition | Subscribe