Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Nolito eager for Champions League challenge

SoccerNews in English Premier League 25 Aug 2016

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Nolito is keen to discover Manchester City’s Champions League group-stage opponents after overcoming Steaua Bucharest in the qualifying play-offs.

Pep Guardiola’s side recorded a 6-0 aggregate win over the Romanian club to earn a place in the draw, which will take place in Monaco on Thursday.

City reached the semi-finals of the Champions League under Manuel Pellegrini last season, losing to eventual winners Real Madrid.

It remains to be seen if they can go one better under Guardiola, who guided Barcelona to Champions League glory twice but could not repeat the feat during his three seasons with Bayern Munich.

“Thanks to God we have already qualified for the Champions League and now we have to see who will be our rivals in the group,” close-season arrival Nolito told El Larguero.

The Spanish striker, signed from Celta Vigo last month, knows City will face a tough task to reach the final, despite the expertise of their new coach: “In the Champions League any team can beat you.”

Nolito has worked with Guardiola before at Barcelona, where the forward made two LaLiga appearances for the senior team before moving on to Benfica and then Celta.

“Well I’ve had the luck to debut with him,” he said.

“And now [I have been] given the chance to work with him again. [I’m] happy and learning with him.”

As for the Premier League, Nolito is enjoying his new environment after netting twice in a 4-1 win away over Stoke City last weekend.

“Yes, it is very intense, very physical,” he said.

“The [stadiums] are full and the crowd encourage their teams. It’s cool. The crowd live football more in [the] Premier [League] than in other places.

“Sunday is another important game,” he added, referring to a home match against West Ham.

Capped 13 times by his country, Nolito is unsure if he will feature in the plans of Julen Lopetegui, who last month succeeded World Cup and European Championship-winner Vicente del Bosque as Spain’s head coach.

“I do not know, honestly,” he said of his selection chances ahead of next month’s World Cup qualifiers.

“It’s a new coach, with his plans, his players … and we have to see what it happens. We have to wait.”

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