Everyone has often looked at Barcelona in recent years as the world’s greatest club side and one of the greatest club sides ever. For any team seeking major European glory, Barcelona are (and have been) the team to beat. For the last six Champions League campaigns, Barcelona have either won the competition or been knocked out in the semi-finals by the eventual winners (Manchester United in 2008, Inter Milan in 2010, Chelsea in 2012 and Bayern Munich in 2013). The last time they fell before the semi-final stage came in 2007 when they were beaten on away goals by Liverpool in the last 16. Comparatively, Manchester City’s record in this competition is very poor. This may only be their third season amongst Europe’s elite but many people would have expected much more from them. In fact this is the first time they’ve reached the knock-out stages. Therefore, recent history suggests that Manchester City have it all to do over two legs against the Catalan giants.
Barcelona will arrive at the Etihad in imperious form having helped themselves to another half dozen goals at the weekend in La Liga. They will also be armed with Lionel Messi, who is returning to full fitness after a few months out injured. However, these circumstances wouldn’t have been much different to when Barcelona turned up at Old Trafford in the semi-finals in 2008. Or when they turned up at Stamford Bridge in the semi-finals in 2012. Or when they turned up at the Emirates in 2011. Or even when they turned up at Celtic Park (Park Head), Glasgow last season. On all of those occasions they were beaten on British soil. Arguably, none of those teams who defeated Barcelona will have been as well-equipped as Manchester City are now.
Manchester City go into tonight’s game having, at times, been playing in a style and to a standard not too dissimilar to their illustrious opponents. After a sticky spell where they picked up only one point from two games, they comfortably dismantled the team who beat them only a couple of weeks ago. They have also the perfect weapons to deal with Barcelona’s strengths. In Yaya Toure they have one of the best performing midfield players in the world right now and his powerful presence in the middle of the park will be key and in a battle of strength against Barca’s pint-sized midfield maestros, there would be only one winner. If City can get Fernandinho back in time, that will give them another boost as he is equally difficult to shrug off the ball. With the pair working in tandem it would also give Toure the licence to push forward and as we’ve seen this season, he can cause devastation to any team. Then there’s Vincent Kompany. A top defender at the top of his game this season and he’ll need to be just that in both tonight’s game and at the Nou Camp. And up front they have Alvaro Negredo who, along with Jesus Navas, have caused Barcelona many problems before in their days at Sevilla.
If all of the aforementioned teams can get the better of Barcelona on their own patch then Manchester City, with their near-perfect home record over the last two or three years and with their current squad, definitely can. Jose Mourinho claims that the current Barcelona side is the “worst in many, many years”. Of course the real reason Mourinho made those comments is because he loves playing his usual trick of putting pressure on City but even if there is an element of truth behind that, it will never be an easy task to try to beat them over two legs. However, unlike most who come up against them (even those in the latter stages of the Champions League), City have the potential to do it. They’ll need to win tonight though.