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Tuesday, 18 December, 2018

Pep Guardiola keen to improve on quarter-final exit

Lyon games should see plenty of goals at both ends

Man City hotshot Sergio Aguero (left) celebrates with Fernandinho
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Manchester City Pep Guardiola
It's difficult to be overly critical of a side who smashed records galore in last season's Premier League as the centurions won the championship by 19 points, but there will still have been some angst at Manchester City over their Champions League quarter-final loss to Liverpool.

A 3-0 first-leg loss at Anfield put paid to City's hopes and questions will be asked as to whether Pep Guardiola's determination to attack makes his teams vulnerable in knockout ties.

He won the competition twice with Barcelona, most recently in 2011, but failed in three attempts with Bayern Munich and is on a two-year losing run at City.

However, the criticism could be harsh - the simple fact is that trying to win the Champions League is hazardous and City's Premier League performances warrant them being considered favourites even in an ultra-competitive heat.

Riyad Mahrez has joined an already blessed attacking unit and left-back Benjamin Mendy's return from a long-term injury adds a new dimension to City's play.

Shakhtar Donetsk Paulo Fonseca
Shakhtar have never been further than the Champions League quarter-finals and, while they should be competitive, the Ukrainian double winners are unlikely to improve on last season's last-16 berth.

Pep Guardiola reckoned Shakhtar were "one of the best teams" in Europe last term, claims which enhanced the reputation of their coach Paulo Fonseca, who signed a new contract despite reported interest from Everton and West Ham.

Fonseca held talks with the Hammers before committing himself, although key players departed with Fred heading to Manchester United, Bernard going to Everton and Ukraine's leading hitman Facundo Ferreyra leaving for Benfica.

Three Brazilians arrived to continue the Latin flavour but the main success story of this season has been countryman Junior Moraes, who was signed from Dynamo Kiev and has been banging in the goals from day one.

Fellow Brazilians Marlos, Taison and Ismaily have stuck with Fonseca which makes silky-skilled Shakhtar a pleasure to watch, even though they did not keep a clean sheet in last season's Champions League.

Lyon Bruno Genesio
In terms of the women's game Lyon are the kings of Europe with the French side winning each of the last three Champions League competitions. It has not been so easy for them in the men's tournament.

Lyon squeezed their way in by finishing one point ahead of rivals Marseille in third in Ligue 1, thanks mainly to their attack who plundered 87 goals, second only to runaway champions Paris St-Germain.

It's not quite Neymar, Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe but Lyon had their own fab four consisting of Memphis Depay, Bertrand Traore, Nabil Fekir and Mariano Diaz, who scored 68 of Lyon's 87 goals between them.

Penalty-box predator Mariano rejoined his former club Real Madrid, so the pressure will be on new recruit Moussa Dembele from Celtic to replace some of those goals, although World Cup winner Fekir remains after a move to Liverpool fell through.

Lyon should score goals at this level. Keeping them out, however, is a different story and signing defender Jason Denayer from Manchester City may not be enough.

Hoffenheim Julian Nagelsmann
Whipper-snapper coaching prodigy Julian Nagelsmann has already packed plenty into his career but the highly-rated 31-year-old German will get his first crack of the Champions League after being harshly denied a platform on the biggest stage last season.

Hoffenheim went from relegation candidates to Champions League qualifiers under Nagelsmann before a horrendous playoff draw against Liverpool saw the club crash out at the first hurdle.

The Europa League campaign went poorly, although Nagelsmann remains one of the hottest coaching prospects around and he has already agreed to join Leipzig for next season after Bayern Munich decided he was not quite ready for Germany's top job.

Nagelsmann did superbly to finish third with Hoffenheim last season despite losing several key men and it's the same again this time with Mark Uth, the third-top scorer in the Bundesliga, heading to Schalke.

Arsenal winger Reiss Nelson will be hoping to have a similar impact on loan as Bayern Munich's former Gunner Serge Gnabry but Hoffenheim's real star is in the dugout.

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Nagelsmann remains one of the hottest coaching prospects around and he has already agreed to join Leipzig for next season
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