Iniesta hopes to avoid Real as quarter-final draw looms
Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta admits he would prefer not to face Champions League holders and eternal rivals Real Madrid ahead of Friday’s quarter-final draw in Nyon.
The Spain midfielder, a four-time winner of European club football’s biggest prize, helped Barca progress to the last eight of the competition for the 11th year in a row after a 4-1 aggregate victory over Chelsea.
But Iniesta is hoping his side will not be drawn against Real, despite Barca defeating Cristiano Ronaldo’s team 3-0 at the Bernabeu in the first Clasico of the Spanish league season in December.
“I do not want a Spanish team, because we know each other too much,” Iniesta said, with clubs at this stage no longer protected from facing others from the same country.
“The thought of winning the Champions League is always a motivation, but it’s difficult. The challenge is minimising errors, because one bad game and you’re out.”
Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri, a runner-up with the Italian giants twice in the past three seasons, is desperate to avoid Barca and Lionel Messi, who hit his 100th Champions League goal on Wednesday.
Juve lost the 2015 final to Barca, and Allegri is sick of the sight of the side who beat his team 3-0 at the Camp Nou in this season’s group stage before a goalless draw in the return fixture in Turin.
“I want to avoid Barcelona, after years of meeting them a year’s rest is needed,” said Allegri, who masterminded a 3-0 aggregate win over the Catalans in last year’s quarter-finals.
But the former AC Milan boss is also wary of a Real outfit — unbeaten in the knockout rounds under Zinedine Zidane — that blew his team away 4-1 in June to lift the trophy for a record-extending 12th time.
“Real Madrid are clear favourites because they are growing and can no longer win the league. I won’t offend anyone if I say that after three months of holidays they have begun to play,” Allegri said.
– ‘City best of the lot’ –
Roma sporting director Monchi, renowned from his time at Sevilla, believes Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City are the strongest team in Europe, but concedes it will be a tall order regardless of the draw for a club through to its first quarter-final in 10 years.
“It’s tough to say who is the best,” Monchi said. “They’re all difficult.
“(Barcelona) have a player (Messi) who’s not normal in their team.
“Then there’s Real Madrid, a club that’s accustomed to winning everything; Juventus are on a successful run; Manchester City are the best of the lot in my opinion; Bayern Munich faced a good side in Besiktas, with top players, and won 5-0.”
Five-time European champions Bayern head into the pot in confident mood after an 8-1 aggregate demolition of Besiktas, but coach Jupp Heynckes says that won’t count for much in the next round.
“It comes down to the form on the day,” said Heynckes. “It’s also crucial to have all your important players. And then you need a little bit of luck at the right point.”
Germany striker Sandro Wagner, who notched his first Champions League goal in the 3-1 win in Istanbul, believes Bayern are a match for anyone.
“We are Bayern Munich and we know we can overcome any opponent if we have a good day,” he said.
Wagner’s international team-mate Emre Can is equally as relaxed ahead of discovering Liverpool’s quarter-final fate.
“There are just strong teams and that’s why I don’t care (who Liverpool draw). I don’t mind who comes. It will be interesting,” said Can, who under Jurgen Klopp is part of the first Liverpool side to reach this stage of the tournament since 2008-09.
The first legs of the quarter-finals will be played over April 3-4, with the returns scheduled for April 10-11.
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