Man City face the daunting task of overcoming a two goal deficit when they travel to take on Barcelona in the second leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie on Wednesday (19:45 GMT, live on Sky Sports).
Barcelona were fairly comfortable victors in the first leg at the Etihad, controlling possession and establishing a two goal advantage courtesy of goals from Lionel Messi and Dani Alves. City’s Martin Demichelis was dismissed for the foul leading to the penalty dispatched by Messi.
Gerardo Martino’s side have, however, endured a difficult few weeks in the aftermath of their first leg success, losing away to Real Sociedad and Real Valladolid either side of a home win over Almeria. Those two defeats have seen them slip to third in La Liga, four points behind leaders Real Madrid, with 63 points from 20 wins, three draws and three defeats.
The four-time Champions League winners qualified for the knockout stages by comfortably topping Group H, four points clear of Milan. They have a stellar record in the competition in recent times, having reached at least the semi-final stage in each of the last six years, and will be confident of converting their first leg lead into a place in the last eight.
Martino chose a strong side for the defeat to Valladolid on Saturday, but his side put in a highly lethargic display, creating a few good chances but otherwise functioning poorly. Lionel Messi, off-colour for Argentina in midweek, failed to produce his best, while Cesc Fabregas, Neymar and Xavi also performed well below their optimum level.
With rumours of a rift between Martino and some of his players, the next few weeks could be key to Barcelona’s season. On form, particularly at home (where they average 3.54 goals per match in the league), they are still capable of producing excellence, but with key players ageing or off-form they are no longer as scary a proposition as they once were.
Martino will definitely be without Isaac Cuenca (hamstring) and Jonathan Dos Santos (knee) for this match. Andres Iniesta is expected to return to the squad after being allowed to sit out the Valladolid defeat for personal reasons.
Like Barcelona, Man City come into the second leg on the back of an unexpected defeat, having lost 2-1 at home to Championship side Wigan in the FA Cup on Sunday. They are, however, still well placed in the Premier League with 57 points from 18 wins, three draws and five defeats, nine points behind leaders Chelsea but with three games in hand.
The Citizens struggled in the Champions League under previous coach Roberto Mancini, failing to make it out of the group stage in consecutive seasons. They sailed through the group stage of this year’s competition under Manuel Pellegrini (pictured), winning five and losing one in finishing second in Group D, level on points with holders Bayern Munich.
Pellegrini was outfoxed by his opposite number Uwe Rosler in the defeat to Wigan, with the away side’s three-man central defence and energetic pressing making it difficult for City to establish their normal rhythm. Wigan were able to effectively stifle an attacking unit that has otherwise been highly potent this season, scoring over 120 goals across all competitions.
With Alvaro Negredo and Sergio Aguero up front and two of David Silva, Jesus Navas and Samir Nasri in support, City will be relatively confident of scoring at the Camp Nou. Their likely attacking focus will, however, place a lot of strain on the midfield pairing of Fernandinho and Yaya Toure and a defence that has struggled at times this season.
Demichelis is suspended following his red card in the first leg, while Matija Nastasic (knee) and Stevan Jovetic (hamstring) are both injury doubts.
Barcelona v Man City Betting Tips
Last month’s first leg was the first official meeting between the sides. Barcelona had won two, lost two and drawn one of their previous five Champions League matches against English opposition, while City drew at home and lost away to Real Madrid in the group stage of last year’s competition.
Barcelona are very capable of sucking the life out of a match by dominating possession and will likely seek to do so here, choosing their moments to attack as and when opportunities present themselves. They have only lost by two or more goals on one occasion in their last 65 home matches in the Champions League.
City will take some hope from Barcelona’s recent league defeats and with a good variety of attacking options will almost certainly create chances. They are, however, prone to the odd error in defence and it is asking an awful lot of them to both score two or more goals and keep a clean sheet. The tie is Barcelona’s to lose.
- Back both teams to score @ best odds of 3/5 with William Hill.
- Messi was poor in Barcelona’s weekend defeat to Valladolid, but had scored eight times in his previous six appearances and will enjoy the space that is likely to open up as City go forward in search of goals. Back Lionel Messi to score at anytime @ best odds of 8/11 with Coral.