Sergio Aguero: Champions League and EPL Title Race

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Another international break is upon us so what better way to fill the void of club football than a catch up with Stake’s Global Football Ambassador Sergio Agüero. We spoke to him about the Champions League, the latest goings on at Manchester City and the thrilling English Premier League title race.

The Champions League quarter-final draw has thrown up some huge ties. Let’s start with your old club Manchester City. Bayern Munich - how much of a daunting prospect is that for City?

It will be some tie, very interesting to watch.

It will undoubtedly be a high-octane bracket, as you would expect from two elite teams like City and Bayern.

Two great teams facing each other – the draw willed it to be a quarter final, but this could easily have been a semi final, or even a final.

But, whatever the instance, if you want to win the Champions League, you have to beat every rival you face.

You scored a memorable hat-trick against Bayern in 2014. What are your memories of that game?

Certainly nice memories.

It was a special night because we just had to win and the game was never easy for us.

We managed to turn it around at the end and I was lucky to convert the three goals against Pep's Bayern. No easy task, but we pulled it off.

Bayern have things so easy in Germany, does that count against them in Europe because they are facing bigger challenges from opposition teams?

The Bundesliga is much more competitive this season.

And although Bayern is very well positioned in the league, it hasn't been as simple to do as it was in previous years.

Each competition is different and the teams that want to win have to give it their all.

Those teams need a roster that gives them the breadth to take those challenges on.

Performing well in a local league doesn't necessarily translate to Champions League success, or vice versa.

Say, Real Madrid, for example – they trail Barcelona by 12 points, but they've still got a bite in the Champions League.

We've seen that when they played against Liverpool. Or, in Chelsea's case, they aren't taking the Premier League away, and still they are in the quarter finals of the Champions League.

With great, storied teams, anything can happen.

When City signed Erling Haaland, the thought was that he had been signed specifically to deliver the Champions League. Would you agree?

That's not the case, in my opinion. City needed a striker with clinical finishes in the last yards of the field, and that's the type of addition they were wanting.

But a single player can never guarantee a title. It's about the team. Particularly Manchester City, as their main weapon is strong collective play.

Julian Alvarez has signed a big contract extension at Man City. Just how good can he be?

I think he is a great player.

Let's not forget that it's his first year in Europe, he had just flown in from Argentina... and, so far, he's done a great job.

He's shown that he's got what it takes to stay strong under pressure and perform well.

In a team that has great players and there's always the chance of not being in the starting eleven, that's even more important.

Not all players make it that far. This makes me believe that, as time goes by, all these virtues will flourish and they will bring great joys to City.

Haaland scored five against Leipzig, what will that do to the Bayern players who will have looked at what he did and must now figure out a way to stop him?

They know Haaland well enough in Germany, and they know what he can do.

None of this should come as a big surprise to them.

The main difference is that he's in a team like City now – which has a great offensive playing style with many possible variations.

They need to figure how to stop the whole team, not just Haaland.

Pep has been critical of Kevin De Bruyne, and has even dropped him lately. He publicly criticised him, then De Bruyne responded with a brilliant display against Leipzig. Were you surprised he went public, or is this the method of a genius manager?

I'm not following those statements, so I can't issue an opinion of my own.

I know Kevin has missed being in the starting squad.

But he's a key player for City, and I know Pep thinks about it that way. We all know the kind of player he is and all he can give to the team.

How do you see the tie between City and Bayern going? It’s time to stick your neck out – who wins and why?

I can say they'll be a great game. Both are offensive teams that want to handle the ball and seek the net.

The one that's the most lethal near the opposing goal while holding fast on defence will win, as usual.

Manchester City has to be my pick.

They are showing brilliant play, and a diverse arsenal of tools to bring the hurt on rivals.

Real Madrid, defending champions, now face Chelsea. They’ve already seen off Liverpool - do Chelsea have a chance?

Why wouldn't they? Granted, Madrid is tried and true in these kind of matches.

Their history – and recent showings – prove as much.

They'll be the toughest of oppositions.

That said, Chelsea has bolstered their lines with fantastic players.

They have some level of adaptation to do, that may trip them up.

But I wouldn't expect that to make it an easy match – for any of the two teams.

Joao Felix will have extra incentive to make a difference won’t he, do you see him as the biggest threat Chelsea have?

Now Joao has been playing superbly lately.

History or not, one player can't define a knockout match.

It'll be bigger than him, it'll be about the team, their cohesion and their consistency.

And about scoring goals, which has been a sore point for them.

This is a game which sees Carlo Ancelotti, the most successful Champion League manager ever, up against Graham Potter - who is regarded highly in England but who has struggled at Chelsea. Do you see any way Potter can come out on top on the tactics department?

Potter hasn't managed Chelsea for that much time, has he?

And he's been there during a time with many players coming and going, lots of high-profile injuries.

Going straight into major competitions isn't what one would advise... with enough time, managers can materialize great results.

Potter proved it during his time at Brighton, and he'll surely find a way to repeat that success at Chelsea.

Again, put your neck on the line. Who gets through this tie and why?

Can't just ignore the past and present of Real Madrid – they are the likely winners.

But it isn't over until we see how the games play out.

Sometimes, the most minor thing can make a world of difference. Still, Madrid's got the edge here.

What are your thoughts about Victor Osimhen? Because he plays in Italy perhaps his talents haven’t been as well respected elsewhere in Europe - but how does he rank against the very best?

Napoli has been the dark horse of this season, and his current performance as a striker is first-rate.

He's got admirable physical form, good instincts, and a lot of goal. The question, as usual, is consistency.

That being said, he's been a force to reckon with lately, and warrants keeping an eye on.

Domestically in England it’s a straight fight between two teams now - Arsenal and Manchester City. When you look at the squads and how the table stands, how do you see the title race working out?

It's a beauty of a title race, that much I know.

Arsenal is keeping up the pace – I know Arteta very well and I respect him a lot, so I know he's sure of how to get the most out of his team and from the many young, ambitious players playing there.

We're hot on their heels, though. We know the Premier League isn't over until the final minute of the final match – from personal experience.

We'll fight 'til the end, that's our DNA. I hope we can close the gap and cinch the title.

Arsenal lost in the Europa League on penalties - when you’re in a position where you are pushing for trophies, how damaging is a surprise European exit?

That must have hurt. It's a big shock and a major setback to their plans.

But I saw the next match after the elimination, and they bounced back quickly.

That was a solid win over Crystal Palace.

I don't believe the elimination will have any further ripple effects.

Arsenal are now free to concentrate only on the Premier League, while City still have Europe and the FA Cup in their schedule. That surely must count as an advantage for Arsenal now?

Sure, especially considering that teams like City doesn't just want to play in three different simultaneous competitions, City wants to win them all.

Arsenal's only got the Premier League to worry about.

Nevertheless, Manchester City has got a diverse roster to allow them to pull this off – and, as an advantage, this means they'll be able to keep up the tempo.

With the World Cup in mid-season, the time is approaching where if fatigue sets in, it will start to happen now. How much of a concern will that be for City given their extra demands in the other competitions?

So far, the team's been looking solid.

Some players had a rockier adaptation coming from the World Cup.

By now, however, everyone looks to be in prime condition, fully recovered.

City is able to rotate players throughout competitions very effectively, so I don't think this should be a large concern.

The Premier League power financially is a threat for La Liga - who do you see as the next Spanish-based star who will be tempted over this summer?

This is conversation is a bit of an old hat – both leagues are very strong and they have some of the best players in the world.

Last few transfer windows have seen a lot of traffic in both directions, and I wouldn't expect the next one to be too different.

Barcelona have moved a long way clear in LaLiga - the title race there is over, isn’t it?

I said it before – it isn't over until it's over. It wouldn't be wise to call the league based on the current standings, no matter how big the gap.

More so when we talk about Madrid – they can put up a dogged pursuit for the first place.

I know Barca's players and staff, and I know they'll want to win every game ahead.

They've done well so far, particularly defensively. They've conceded few goals, and they are able to stay very focused.

When you look at Gavi, how concerned are you that he is still yet to sign a new contract with Barca?

Gavi is one of Barca's pillars, the way I see it, and they'll want to keep him around.

Negotiations can be drawn out, yes, but I wouldn't call it cause for alarm.

Joao Cancelo is reportedly a target for Barcelona this summer. Should Man City let him go after the Pep fallout?

We'll have to wait until the end of season, and see what happens with Joao's stint at Bayern.

Looking at his impact as a player, and knowing first-hand the qualities of the likes of Xavi, Iniesta etc, how good can Gavi actually be?

For a young player, he's been able to display what kind of player he is. He's got Barca in his blood, and he loves the club.

You can see that every match. Gavi's got the physical prowess and a lot of dedication.... he dived head-first to the ground to recover a ball!

He's a key part of Barca's present, but he'll be a key piece of Barca's future, for sure.

Real Madrid’s failure to sustain a title challenge this season has seen some questions raised over the future of Carlo Ancelotti as manager. Do you think this is crazy that people are saying he should be sacked?

Ancelotti's career is a testament to his excellence as a manager.

He's got more Champion's League under his belt than anyone else – what else needs to be said?

This whole line of thought puzzles me – Madrid has performed really well with him under the helm.

You can't always win them all... I just don't think it's logical to have this discussion at this stage.

Ancelotti says Vinicius Jr is the best player in the world right now. Do you agree?

I can respect that opinion, and it'd be logical for him to have it. Vinicius has been very important for the team, a cornerstone of modern Real Madrid.

You know you should always watch out when he starts to run forward with the ball – that's his main offensive trait.

There's evidence of this in every game he plays.

That being said, it's arguable at best that he's the best player in the world.

Leo was chosen as the top player of the world, and that's what I believe. Mbappe played an incredible World Cup as well.