Barça host English Premier League champions Manchester City tomorrow (Wednesday 8.45 pm) in the second leg of the Champions League last 16 tie. Two goals from Luis Suárez earned a 1-2 away win in the first leg at the Etihad three weeks ago making Barça firm favourites to make it into Friday’s quarter-final draw for a record eighth successive season.
City’s slim chances of retaining their league title took another blow on Saturday when they lost 1-0 to relegation-threatened Burnley which leaves them in serious danger of ending the season without a trophy. Coach Manuel Pellegrini’s job is under threat as City have been unimpressive for some weeks now. As their big name stars fail to gel there appears to be a lack of team spirit and character.
This is often a problem for clubs that try to buy their way to success, especially when it comes to the unattractive league games such as Burnley away. However, their players will surely be more motivated for a Champions League game at Camp Nou and they certainly have the talent to cause Barça problems. In the group stage they demonstrated their ability to raise their game when it most mattered with victories over Bayern Munich and Roma.
Ex-blaugrana Toure Yaya will be back in City’s midfield after missing the first leg while Fernandinho is also fully fit to play from the start this time. With the need to score a minimum of two goals City will have to go with a positive approach. Pellegrini could repeat the 4-4-2 formation from the first leg though there is the danger that if City try to push too many men forward they will be vulnerable to the ball behind their own defence. On the other hand if Pellegrini’s team sit back and look for the break, perhaps in a 4-2-3-1, they will find it difficult to surprise Barça.
Luis Enrique will need to remind his players of the importance of the game and warn against the belief that the tie is already over. The Barça coach has instilled a competitive spirit in his team which suggests the players will be properly focused. Nobody should be thinking about Sunday’s Clasico with Madrid.
Having rested various players for the 0-2 win at Eibar on Saturday Lucho will have everybody available except the injured Vermaelen and Busquets who has also been ruled out for Sunday. Alves, Mathieu, Alba, Mascherano and Iniesta all look likely to return to the starting XI while Ter Stegen should start between the posts and there could be another chance for Xavi if the recent policy of rotations in midfield continues.
The two teams have only ever met three times in official competitions and all in the last thirteen months. Barça have won all three of those meetings and I can’t help feeling we’ll be too good for City again tomorrow.
Barça: Ter Stegen; Alves, Piqué, Mathieu, Alba; Xavi, Mascherano, Iniesta; Messi, Suárez, Neymar.
Man City: Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Kolarov; Toure, Fernandinho; Nasri, Silva, Dzeko; Aguero.
My bet: Correct score: Barça 3 Man City 1 (current odds: 10.00) The best odds for soccer betting are at William Hill.
Date: Wednesday 18 March 2015. Kick-off 8.45 pm local time.