Manchester City vs. Barcelona, Champions League draw: Can City exact their revenge?
The reigning Premier League champions meet the four-time European Cup winners in a clash of titans.
There’s no doubt that the stand-out fixtures in the Champions League knockout stage draw is the two-legged encounter between Manchester City and Barcelona. The Catalans are certainly one of the biggest teams in world football, City probably fancy themselves as being in the same bracket, and we should get a couple of brilliant games. Let’s just hope they don’t end up being as one-sided as when these teams met in last season’s tournament, when Barca ran out 4-1 winners.
Last year’s Premier League champions Manchester City would probably be serious European contenders by now, had they spent their Qatari riches more wisely. As it is, the English side are still not really likely to trouble the genuine Champions League favourites, and have been periodically patchy domestically so far this season. While they’ve been pretty impressive going forward, Manuel Pellegrini’s side are still extremely shaky elsewhere on the field.
The decline of Vincent Kompany at the back has been exaggerated with his host of erratic central defensive partners. Eliaquim Mangala is young but visibly inexperienced, Matija Nastasić appears to have disappeared into thin air, and Martín Demichelis is still, unfortunately, Martín Demichelis. Meanwhile, though Pablo Zabaleta is as reliable as ever out on the right flank, City’s left-backs, Gaël Clichy and Aleksandar Kolarov, are hardly the most defensively sound players.
In midfield, the former Barcelona man Yaya Touré has struggled to find his best form, meaning they’re really lacking in a creative source in the centre of the park. In short, if they want to stand any chance of getting through to the next round, they’re going to have to hope that their attackers are on form, and that the injury crisis that has recently hit is put firmly behind them.
Key Player: Sergio Agüero
If there’s one good thing about Sergio Agüero’s recent injury, it’s that he should be back in time for the resumption of Champions League action. However, whether he returns in the sensational form he’s shown so far this season is another question altogether. In netting 14 goals in his first 15 Premier League appearances, Kun has made a reasonable claim to be the best pure striker in world football at the moment, and if he’s still on song when Barca come to town, City stand a pretty good chance of causing an upset.
Despite offseason turmoil with yet another coaching change and doubts about whether or not the club would be able to get their impending transfer ban postponed, Barcelona are once again in the Champions League knockout stages. Luis Enrique’s relative lack of experience hasn’t appeared to be a hinderance — this is his first foray in Europe’s biggest club competition — and the plethora of weapons at his disposal helped make qualification a fairly simple process.
With no team other than Paris Saint-Germain stepping up challenge them in group play, Barca were able to advance comfortably despite losing to the Parisians in their first meeting. A final match day victory over PSG at the Camp Nou ensured that Barca claimed the top spot in the group and a coveted seeded place in the draw, allowing them to avoid a tougher side in the Round of 16.
Barca’s defense is better than in previous seasons, thanks in large part to having two quality goalkeepers, but they remain susceptible to teams with speed and width. Unfortunately for Enrique, he’s not going to have the chance to make any roster changes before play resumes thanks to that previously mentioned transfer ban finally kicking in this January. That said, Barca remain a team nobody wants to play, because let’s be honest, would you want to try and deal with Neymar, Lionel Messi, and Luis Suárez all at the same time?
Key Player: Neymar
Everyone is fully aware of what Lionel Messi can do, and the work rate of Luis Suárez is unmatched when he’s not busy biting people, but what really makes this team truly dangerous is Neymar. After a tough first season for the young Brazilian in which he struggled to adapt to the pressure and expectations heaved upon his shoulders, Neymar has been a terror for defenses during this campaign. You need only look at Barca’s draw against Getafe over the weekend to see how not having him on the pitch weakens the overall attack. A defense can bottle up Messi, they could even frustrate Suárez at the same time, but doing that AND controlling Neymar? That’s a tough ask.