Manchester City vs Barcelona Preview
In one of the Champions League last 16’s more glamorous ties, there is a repeat meeting at this stage for these 2 powerhouses. City buoyed by an emphatic 5-0 thumping of Newcastle at the week end, head into the game in high spirits. Whilst Barcelona slumped to a 1-0 loss at home to Malaga on Saturday, to end a fine run of form for Luis Enrique’s side.
Last year the stage was set for an enthralling tie between one of Europe’s traditional giants and a rising force of the game. Many believed Manchester City, inspired by the sensational form of mainly Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure, could well defeat the Catalans. Manuel Pellegrini’s side had been enjoying a rich vein of form at the time, which had seen them placed at the summit of the Premier League. Furthermore it was the English side’s first knock-out game in the competition and the levels of excitement were palpable.
However on that occasion City weren’t ready. Losing comprehensively at the Etihad in the first leg, before being convincingly beaten at the Nou Camp. To be honest, they looked somewhat out of their depth against one of Europe’s very elite sides and showed just how much they would have to improve to grant the owners wish of being crowned champions of Europe. It was a ruthless lesson handed out by Barca.
City managed to escape their group this campaign, having beaten Bayern Munich and Roma to escape seemingly inevitable elimination. This may have given the team real belief that finally they could challenge in Europe and put in big performances on the continent. Although their league form has been rather patchy recently, despite picking up somewhat in the past couple of weeks. So they head in to the game in probably a worse state than last year performance wise. Belief though, is a new word in their Champions League vocabulary and one year more of experience in it can only be of benefit to Pellegrini’s men. The argument was that last year they had peaked before the tie, having begun to slip a little in the build up to the match. This time they have seemingly come out the other end of a bad spell and are finding some rhythm right on cue for tonight’s game. The timing could be perfect.
Barcelona however, will start as favourites once again. Until the week ends loss they had been in scintillating form, with the manager beginning to find his feet at the club he served so well as a player. The rejuvenation of Lionel Messi to somewhere near his best form, has had a large part to play in this and so has Enrique for placing him back on the right hand side. He can influence games far more there as opposed to a more central role. In fact since the eve of the Ballon D’Or, he has been a one man mission and probably the most in form player on the planet. Perhaps spurred on by Cristiano Ronaldo’s consecutive victories of the before mentioned award, he has really led a revival at the Nou Camp.
The little Argentine has begun to strike up a top relationship with Neymar, who has been sensational so far in his second La Liga season. If you add Luis Suarez to the fold, who is beginning to find his feet after a mega money move from Liverpool in the summer, then you have a pretty scary frontline on your hands. A great defensive record has been one of the coups of Enrique’s short tenure as boss till now and on watching the game you will also a see a slightly more direct approach of which he has been gradually implementing. That said, Aguero could still cause their back 4 nightmares, as they still have liability’s there you feel.
I strongly believe Barcelona will reign victorious in this tie but I have a feeling that City will run them a lot closer this time round. Hart will need to be on top form like he was in Rome, and so will all the City defence. Also they will need to show slightly less respect to their illustrious opposition and go for their throat a little more this time round. A swift counter attack, built on a strong defensive showing is the way to go for the Citizens. They need to get in their faces and make them uncomfortable. The return of Yaya Toure will give them a further boost, with his departure to the Africa cup of nations, a big reason their form had dipped so much in the past few weeks. The Catalans on the other hand, know they have the tools to hurt City and nothing could see their opponents implode like an early goal. Messi and Neymar need to take centre stage as Kompany and co would have a very difficult task trying to deal with their magic. If Barca turn up, I feel they will have too much but City certainly have the tools to make it tricky for them and perhaps cause an upset.