The possible dawning of a new force on European football in Manchester City, while the optional sinking of another, in a weakening Barcelona side, beginning their knockout stage, two-leg clash at the Etihad Stadium, with two South American managers who have never faced off before on the sidelines.
Barcelona arrive in Manchester with a full lineup and more importantly a Lionel Messi that’s on the warpath once again. Barcelona have won their last two matches by a combined 10-1 against Sevilla and Rayo Vallecano. Messi scored three goals in those games, rebounding from the home defeat against Valencia to show that it’s a bit too soon to put them down.
Manchester City is a British team that this Barcelona side still haven’t met. In recent years, especially against Chelsea but also against Celtic, we’ve seen away matches be a problem for Barcelona. They got over that hump this season with an excellent game from Neymar lifting them against a parking the bus performance from Celtic, and the good news for Barca is City not playing that way, and not capable of playing like that either.
It’s still a question whether or not Neymar will actually start, but he’ll be involved at some point. Manchester City will struggle if Barcelona do the right thing and attack Demichelis early and often, which means trying to bring their 1-2 passing game to his area of the pitch.
For Manchester City, this season is the first time they’ve gotten beyond the group stage. Their first encounter with Bayern Munich showed they’re not ready for the big leagues, but the second one, which was garbage time for both teams, showed us something completely different.
Having Fernandinho in the lineup, still questionable, can mean the world to them if he’s fit. With Yaya Toure and Fernandinho, Manchester City can do with two players what most teams need three men for. However, no matter the midfield duo, they’re going to need either Silva or Nasri to do a lot of helping out in the middle unless they want to spend 90 minutes of being unable to have any possession beyond the halfway line.
One issue that’s going to trouble Manchester City is not having Sergio Aguero. Barcelona have a problem with speedy, small strikers who force them to stretch out their withered defense. Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo are excellent finishers, but they’re not that mobile, which puts a lot of pressure on the Navas, Silva and Nasri trio to make as many runs as possible to the openings Jordi Alba and Dani Alves will leave behind them.
Prediction – Barcelona will have possession and should show some smarter defending than we’ve seen in the past from them. However, they’ve been lacking that killer instinct all season long and although they will score, Manchester City will find the net as well in a draw that will obviously benefit the visitors.