With Man City's title defence evaporating, Pep Guardiola's focus will shift to a showdown with a familiar foe.
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Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City will resign their Premier League crown at the end of the season with the Reds of Merseyside on a procession to the title. His focus will switch to the Champions League and a showdown with his great rivals from his time in Spain. 

For the first time on the touchline, the football world will witness Zinedine Zidane pit his wits against Pep Guardiola when Real Madrid and Manchester City face off in the last 16 of the Champions League. 

City have played Real a total of four times competitively with a record of no wins, two draws, and two losses. Not very impressive stats, but the current English champions are a different beast to the team that Zidane triumphed over in 2016 on his way to his first Champions League trophy as a manager.

For one thing, they now have the Pep factor. But can the enigmatic Catalan help his team put one over on his old El Clasico foes?

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Pep’s focus now on Europe

There’s considerable daylight between the Premier League leaders Liverpool and the rest of the chasing pack. The Anfield club are now the champions-elect and will succeed Manchester City as English title-holders at season’s end. Therefore, Guardiola’s focus will undoubtedly be fixed on Europe.

In fact, the Champions League is the last major trophy left for Man City to win his stewardship. And one can bet that rankles with Pep even more so than his current position in the league. It’s also the one competition he failed to win during his time with Bayern Munich.

Having reached the final at the expense of their great Manchester rivals, City are still in with a great chance of retaining their Carabao Cup and may even win the FA Cup, but you’d assume Pep and every City fan would gladly give up both for European glory. And so there’s no doubt that his mind will already be on the first leg set for the Bernabeu on February 26th. And this is where Pep may gain an advantage.

Zidane’s Madrid are locked in a race for La Liga, and although Real have been inconsistent at times, this could be his best opportunity to add to the La Liga title he won in his first season as manager. While Pep wants the European Cup, meanwhile, Zizou has one eye on domestic matters and great rivals Barcelona. 

The tie

Pundits and bookies alike are undecided but with both teams’ defences under erforming, the neutral will be anticipating plenty of goals in this tie but a winner is hard to call. A better bet may be on which player will score the game’s first or last goal.

Where Pep holds the big advantage is in the fluidity of the City attack. Sterling and De Bruyne have been on fire while Silva has also taken his game up a level. Gabriel Jesus is also another one for Zidane to be wary of but, unless rules Aguero out, we can’t see anyone other than the Argentine leading the line.

Madrid’s attack has, like the defence, had a pretty inconsistent season thus far. While they’ve earned wins from some precarious positions in La Liga, Real’s European success may in fact rest on the shoulders of the young players breaking into the first team.

Both Vinícius Júnior and Rodrygo have impressed when given the opportunity and both could play some part against City. It’s a dilemma for Guardiola as the movement and pace of both Brazilian forwards could cause City all types of problems in defence. 

In addition, Pep may have to figure out a way to keep both Benzema and Bale quiet. At times this season, Mendy has demonstrated a lack discipline or tactical awareness to deal with intelligent attacking players that run at him, while Angelino is still having nightmares about his performance at Anfield. 

So can he do it?

Given the contrasting fortunes of both managers in this competition, over two legs, Zidane’s team may just have too much for the City backline. And who knows, if Pep falls at this hurdle once more, we may not see him at the Etihad next season.