The Champions League is back, and just like last season Barça have been drawn against Manchester City in the most attractive tie of the last 16. The first leg tomorrow (Tuesday 8.45 pm CET) is once again at the Etihad Stadium and Luis Enrique’s men will be looking for a good result to take back to Camp Nou for the second leg on March 18.
The 0-1 defeat to Malaga on Saturday put an end to Barça’s 11-match winning streak and brought back some doubts. Some could call it a fluke but the fact that the players only managed three efforts on target indicates a lack of ideas. The team has performed well against opponents that come out to play but faced with a deep disciplined defence that left few spaces there was a definite problem to find a way through.
There are no fresh injury problems so only Vermaelen and Douglas miss out on the trip. Luis Enrique named all twenty-one of his available first team players and the group flew to Manchester earlier today with a training session at the Etihad scheduled for this evening. The Barça coach is again offering few clues on his intended team selection though there is a good chance he will opt for the XI that won at Atlético in the Copa del Rey of Ter Stegen, Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba, Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta, Messi, Suárez and Neymar. He may prefer the height of Mathieu at the back which could offer a possible place in midfield for Mascherano while he might also consider the experience of Xavi if he is contemplating a less direct game.
While Barça’s good performances came to an end last weekend, by contrast City came back to form after a disappointing run with a 5-0 victory over Newcastle. There seems little doubt that the English team missed ex-Barça midfielder Toure Yaya while he was at the African Cup but due to suspension they will again have to make do without the Ivorian for tomorrow’s first leg. If this is good news for Barça the bad news is that this year Kun Aguero will be available to lead the City attack while the vulnerable Demichelis will be replaced by Mangala in defence.
City coach Manuel Pelligrini has claimed his team is in better shape than for last season’s meeting. Twelve months ago Barça won the first leg 0-2 with goals from Messi and Alves before completing a 4-1 aggregate win, again with goals from Messi and Alves in a 2-1 victory at Camp Nou.
Man City: Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Mangala, Kolarov; Fernando, Fernandinho; Nasri, Silva, Milner; Aguero.
Barça: Ter Stegen; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Suárez, Neymar.
My bet: correct score: Man City 2 Barça 3 (current odds 23.00) The best odds for soccer betting are at William Hill.
Date: Tuesday 24 February 2015. Kick off 8.45 pm CET/ 7.45 pm GMT