The FourFourTwo Preview: Man City vs Barcelona
After the pre-Christmas parade of the group stage, this is where the Champions League starts in earnest – not uncoincidentally, when it becomes a knockout.
MAN CITY FORM
- Man City 2-0 Chelsea (Cup)
- Norwich 0-0 Man City (Lge)
- Man City 0-1 Chelsea (Lge)
- Spurs 1-5 Man City (Lge)
- Man City 4-2 Watford (Cup)
- Barca 6-0 Rayo Vallecano (Lge)
- Real Sociedad 1-1 Barca (Cup)
- Sevilla 1-4 Barca (Lge)
- Barca 2-0 Real Sociedad (Cup)
- Barca 2-3 Valencia (Lge)
Two ties towered above all others when this draw was made back before Christmas: Manchester City vs Barcelona and Arsenal vs Bayern Munich. Considering this is the last seeded round, and that teams from the same country can't be drawn against each other until the quarter-finals, the UK's TV audience couldn't have asked for more glamorous opponents.
Nor could the two Premier League managers have feared harder opponents. Manuel Pellegrini knows all about Barcelona: in 2009/10, his Real Madrid team collected a club record 96 points but Barça's 99 points earned them the title and him the sack.
That City are being given a chance says much for their development, even during this season. Their early-October 3-1 home loss to Bayern prompted some to doubt Pellegrini; by mid-December, his side had piled up dozens of goals and won the return clash 3-2 in Munich (admittedly against an already-qualified Bayern).
That memorable comeback win in Bavaria – they had been two down within 12 minutes – summed up City, for better or worse: happy to try to outscore the opponents. There's no question of them sitting back against Barcelona, who are also much happier attacking then defending. You'd be surprised if this match finished 1-0 either way.
Player to watch: Yaya Toure (Man City)
He's been at City longer than the three years he spent at the Camp Nou, but Toure still has something to prove to both teams. Barcelona never quite trusted him in his favoured advanced-midfield position, whereas questions have been raised over his diligence in a deeper role.
Notably, City won in Munich without him, Javi Garcia sitting deep alongside Fernandinho. Four days later Toure returned to the XI as City demolished Arsenal, but the Ivorian may have to sacrifice his attacking urges for the sake of the team – particularly if Pellegrini goes with two attackers.
Heard the one about the Chilean who managed in Argentina and the Argentinian who coached Paraguay? These fine examples of the South American managerial diaspora both prefer to win 4-2 than 1-0. Pellegrini would love to get one over on Barcelona, as he rarely did while at Madrid or Villarreal.
Facts and figures
- This will be the first competitive meeting between these two sides.
- Barcelona are winless in their last 5 visits to English sides in the Champions League (2 draws, 3 defeats).
- Man City’s games are the most prolific in the Champions League this season: they’ve produced 28 goals (18 for, 10 against). Their last 3 games alone have produced 18 goals.
- Man City have never failed to score at home in the Champions League (9 games). They’ve only lost one of those games (1-3 v Bayern).
- Manuel Pellegrini won 4 of his 18 managerial encounters with Barcelona in La Liga.
- Lionel Messi (65 goals) is only 6 goals away from equalling Raul’s Champions League goal record (71).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Like mixing volatile chemicals, it's difficult to know how these sides will react to one another, but we can expect entertainment. Given Barcelona's weak recent record in England (and, frankly, the Champions League knockouts), a night to remember for City fans. 3-1.
LEVERKUSEN VS PSG
- Leverkusen have lost their last five games in the Champions League knockout stages (5 goals for, 18 against).
- PSG have scored in each of their last 14 Champions League games. The last time they failed to find the net was in Porto in October 2012.
Meanwhile, on Screen Two...
Hipsters who consider City and Barça gauche should head for the evening's other fixture: Bayer Leverkusen vs Paris Saint-Germain. Sami Hyypia's Germans are little-fancied underdogs: not so much free-flowing as functional, and recently not even that – they've lost five in the last nine, including last Wednesday's shock home defeat to second-tier Kaiserslautern.
PSG are the Euro-elite's nouveau riche, parking their yachts alongside the continent's finest. Only Cristiano Ronaldo has scored more in this season's Champions League than Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who embodies his side's determination to gatecrash the final stages of the tournament.
Last year they held Barcelona twice but went out on away goals; they should have little fear of Leverkusen – although that overconfidence may be Hyypia's hope.