A Look Ahead to Manchester City

Clive Brunskill

FC Barcelona were drawn against Manchester City by ex-Barcelona and Real Madrid player Luis Figo in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 on Monday morning and Manuel Pellegrini's men are likely to be tough opponents.

Everyone knows the story of Manchester City by now. Bought by rich Arab owners in 2008, the club has gone on to become a real powerhouse of English football and secured their first league title in 44 years thanks to a late Sergio Agüero goal. But Europe has so far been a disappointment for the Citizens. Knocked out in the group stages in their first two campaigns led manager Roberto Mancini to the sack and ex-Malaga boss Manuel Pellegrini was brought in.

Since Pellegrini's arrival, City have shone in both the Premier League and the Champions League. Finishing second of group D whilst pulling off a remarkable 3-2 win over Bayern Munich, City seem to have truly found their European form under the man who guided Malaga to the quarterfinals last season.

They also seem unable to stop scoring, Argentine Agüero has already hit 13 goals in the Premier League this term and has found a new strike partner in Álvaro Negredo. The ex-Sevilla man joined in the summer and has had many pundits raving about his and Agüero's deadly partnership.

At the other end, City haven't been so dominant. Joe Hart's very public dropping coupled with club captain Vincent Kompnay's injury absence have led Manchester City to look vulnerable at the back. The mixture of an ageing Martín Demichelis and an inexperienced Matija Nastasić put some confidence into sides facing the blue half of Manchester.

City's season can also be divided into two, their form at home and their form away. At the Etihad, they look virtually unstoppable. They've scored 19 goals in their last four home matches and haven't dropped league points at home since last February. But away from home, it's been the reverse. City have won just three of their nine away games this season and a trip to the Camp Nou wouldn't be the first choice of a side not good on their travels.

It's interesting to look at the battles that are likely to appear between the two sides. Obviously there is an Argentine that will cause a lot of problems to one team, and that Argentine is Sergio Agüero. Gerard Piqué and co will need to be at their very best to keep Agüero out and it will be interesting to see if Tata Martino opts for the experience of Carles Puyol or the pace of Marc Bartra.

While City's defence has the small matter of Lionel Messi and Neymar to deal with. Messi should be fit again by February and will likely be fresher then most of the City team thanks to his month long absence. This can also be said of the majority of the Barcelona team as La Liga features a small winter break while the Premier League does not. Since the harsh criticism that Messi never does well against English team, Messi, as he does with most critics, has gone on to prove them wrong and scored eight goals in eighteen appearances against English sides. His second highest European tally against a country with only German teams having conceded more.

Neymar, meanwhile, recently showed what he can do to British sides as his first Champions League goal and first Champions League hat trick came in the same match, a 6-1 thrashing of the Scottish side Celtic. This being Neymar's first season in the Champions League, it is likely he will be eager to impress and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil works as an extra incentive for both him and Messi.

In midfield, it is likely City will attempt to use the physicality of Yaya Toure, an ex-Barcelona player, against Xavi and Iniesta. Hoping to overpower them similar to what Bayern did last season. The technical ability of David Silva and Samir Nasri will also be a big factor in deciding who has midfield dominance during the game. While the pace of Jesus Navas is likely to make for an uncomfortable night for Jordi Alba.

It is hard to predict the outcome of such an exciting match. In my opinion, I think we will see a strong showing from City at home but Barça will have enough to squeeze through at the Camp Nou.

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