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UEFA Champions League: FC Barcelona vs Manchester City: Match Preview

A preview of Barcelona's UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second-leg clash with Manchester City at the Camp Nou

Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

Forget UEFA Champions League progression for the moment; FC Barcelona has the opportunity to make a statement tomorrow. The world will be watching their Round of 16 second-leg clash against Manchester City, assessing the Blaugrana and their every move. Do they have what it takes to challenge for titles? How will they cope with such a tough match before El Clasico? Could a historic treble really be on the cards?

And across the 90 minutes tomorrow, FC Barcelona can give an answer to each and every one of those questions. The opposition, English Premier League champions Manchester City will pose a stern test in spite of their recent struggles and more than that, they also provide a "name". Gravitas. Whatever you want to call it, this tie has a big-fight feel and after impressing in the first-leg, we can go for the knockout tomorrow.

Every successful season has its standout moments. The 2008/09 season had the dominant wins against Lyon and Bayern Munich, not to mention to humbling of Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu. In 2010/11, we witnessed the finest team performance of all time – the Manita Clasico; big wins against big teams on the big occasions.

By and large, that has been the story of this season too. We comprehensively defeated City in the first-leg, have consistently overwhelmed Atletico Madrid – even before that became a little more normal – and beaten Paris Saint-Germain when the stakes were high. Notable exceptions remain, of course, but all the signs are there. We have the talent. We have the confidence. Can we deliver one of those famous victories tomorrow?

The form guide might suggest that it’s on the cards. FC Barcelona have bounced back from their loss against Malaga to win five matches in quick succession and against Eibar on Saturday, we grabbed our 26th victory out of our past 29 fixtures. We are the form team; we are the team to beat, not just in Spain but in world football.

And while Barcelona have only lost three of their past 29 matches, Manchester City have lost three of their last five, including a shock defeat at the weekend to lowly Burnley. Ask the average Culé to point out Burnley on a map of England and I’m sure you’d get some puzzled faces; so the idea that Manchester City could lose to such a team and then recover in time to challenge the mighty Blaugrana juggernaut just a few days later…well, it is hard to fathom.

But one should know better than to write off a championship-winning team, especially one with such a pedigree for late comebacks like our modern-day Manchester City. After Lionel Messi’s late penalty miss in the first-leg, we gave City a window; a brief glimmer of hope. It’s up to us to close that window tomorrow and secure our place in the last eight. After all, we’ve got designs on something more…



No new injuries, no new suspensions; Luis Enrique’s rotation policy may have made him enemies in the first six months of his reign, but it’s now that we are beginning to really reap the rewards of his astute management. Unlike years gone by, where we have seen performances fade after the winter break, Barcelona have been slowly but surely improving with each passing week – building to the kind of crescendos that typified Guardiola’s reign as head coach.

And typically, mid-March would be the time for that crescendo – just in time for the second Clasico of the season and for crucial UEFA Champions League fixtures. There are of course many differences between now and then, but that’s one similarity at least – and as far as good habits go, this is one of the best of the Guardiola era.

With the Clasico coming up on Sunday, Lucho’s squad management skills will also be needed tomorrow; there’s certainly the chance that we’ll see a couple of rotations from our strongest line-up with that match against Real Madrid in mind.

One of those changes will be between the sticks; Claudio Bravo will drop to the bench and Marc-Andre ter Stegen will take his place, looking to keep his first clean sheet in two months since he helped shut-out Atletico Madrid at the Camp Nou way back in January. The German has of course faced off against high calibre opposition in his role as cup custodian, so his "inability" to claim shut-outs is far from a knock on his record, but like all keepers, he has his eyes on notching those clean sheets.

Up against the likes of Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Yaya Toure though, ter Stegen is going to need a little help from his backline, and on paper, he should get it. Dani Alves and Jordi Alba are both rested after missing out against Eibar through suspension, while Gerard Pique and Marc Bartra are both in incredible form and could be in line to start together tomorrow after their clean sheet against the Basque Country minnows.

Indeed, Luis Enrique’s selection might be indicative of his Clasico backline – with Sergio Busquets likely to miss the match on Sunday, Javier Mascherano will be required at pivote, ruling him out of a return to the centre of defense. Therefore, the smart money is on Gerard Pique starting both games – but with Bartra and Jeremy Mathieu interchanging alongside him.

In midfield, Javier Mascherano will serve as midfield anchor, perhaps giving us more stability if we wish to switch to a 3-4-3 in possession, but the identity of his midfield colleagues could depend on Lucho’s plans for the Clasico. Evidently, Ivan Rakitic, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Rafinha Alcantara are all capable of starting in one, or both of the matches if called upon, but the chances are that Andres Iniesta will start in both, with Rakitic, Xavi and Rafinha fighting it out to partner him tomorrow and on Sunday.

My money is on Ivan Rakitic starting the Clasico, but does that rule him out of contention tomorrow? Of course not, but I do have a feeling that Xavi will be used and Barça will try to recapture some of the magic that we saw against Rayo Vallecano in our last fixture at the Camp Nou.

Of course, the frontline picks itself: Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar are sure to start; the only question is which one of them will take the figurative centre stage and steal the headlines. Luis Suarez was the standout performer in the first-leg, but often in the UEFA Champions League and indeed the biggest games, it has been Neymar who has grabbed the important goals. Oh, and Lionel Messi is pretty good as well.

Could it be that we witness another Atleti special, in which we see the fabled triumvirate share the limelight and grab a goal apiece? We can but dream, right?


No new suspensions, well aside from Gael Clichy after his red card in the first leg and no new injuries; but in contrast to FC Barcelona, there’s an entirely different atmosphere around Manchester City at the moment. The manager is under pressure. There is reported fighting within the dressing room and the club captain is supposed at the forefront of that trouble. The entire team is out of form and they can see their championship slipping away as a result of their recent indifferent results.

Yes, they have the quality in their ranks to threaten FC Barcelona, but they don’t have the confidence nor the discipline required to actually pull off this comeback. That won’t stop them from giving it a go, but the first goal is so important – if it goes to Barcelona, just watch as the City heads drop. If that goal goes in early…it could get messy.

On the night, expect Manuel Pellegrini to have learned his lessons from the first leg – a real double-pivot is a must, which means that Yaya Toure may have to be pushed further forward, purely because he lacks the discipline to press and track back against most midfields, let alone one of Barcelona’s calibre. That would push Edin Dzeko back down to the bench and places a lot of pressure on Sergio Aguero to deliver the goods. His goal in the first-leg has given City some hope, but it’s too much to expect him to outscore Messi, Suarez and Neymar all on his own.


Barcelona: LWWWWW

Manchester City: WWLLWL


Manchester City 1-2 FC Barcelona – 24th February 2015 – UEFA Champions League

Barcelona cruised to a comfortable first-leg victory in this match at the Etihad courtesy of a supreme first-half performance that saw them toy with the English Premier League champions in front of their own crowd. However, a second-half littered with profligacy in front of goal and one moment of subpar defending was all City needed to give themselves a brief glimmer of hope headed into the return leg at the Camp Nou.


Barcelona (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Alves, Pique, Mathieu, Alba; Mascherano, Xavi, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Neymar

Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Kolarov; Fernando, Fernandinho; Silva, Toure, Milner; Aguero


I’m always biased, but seldom correct: 3-0 Barca!

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