The FourFourTwo Preview: Barcelona vs Man City
City's last cup-tie distraction before knuckling down to the title chase. Unless…
Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Barcelona, Wigan. Manchester City's fourth home loss of the season was easily the most surprising, but optimistic City fans (older readers: this is not a misprint) can put a positive spin on it.
- Real Valladolid 1-0 Barca (Lge)
- Barca 4-1 Almeria (Lge)
- Real Sociedad 3-1 Barca (Lge)
- Man City 0-2 Barca (Cup)
- Barca 6-0 Rayo Vallecano (Lge)
MAN CITY FORM
- Man City 1-2 Wigan (Cup)
- Man City 3-1 S'land (Cup)
- Man City 1-0 Stoke (Lge)
- Man City 0-2 Barca (Cup)
- Man City 2-0 Chelsea (Cup)
The FA Cup was never the main objective despite all the Quadruple quotage, which quietened considerably three weeks ago after Barcelona's 2-0 win in Manchester. Since then, the League Cup has given Manuel Pellegrini his first trophy this side of the Atlantic, while Chelsea's relentless acquisition of points has given the league table a more challenging look. In the space of 10 days, City could go from fighting on four fronts to concentrating on one.
Which isn't to say Pellegrini will give up on beating Barcelona, although his words were qualified – "We still have a possibility", "we will try to do a very good game", "we will see what happens". Histrionics aren't his style, despite the post-match ref-rage that has earned him a touchline ban at the Camp Nou and in City's next European game, whenever that might be.
It's not all jam and scones for his opposite number Tata Martino. Barcelona aren't used to being third in the league, what with upstarts Atletico Madrid being the nearest challengers to La Liga leaders Real Madrid. Something of a late appointment last summer after Barca considered Ernesto Valverde and waited on Tito Vilanova's medical prognosis, the Argentine has never quite settled in the Catalan goldfish bowl, and may be in his last couple of months.
In fact, Barcelona are under more pressure than City: whereas Pellegrini hasn't been given a prayer, Martino is expected to win, to win well, to keep his various forwards happy and to at least reach the Champions League semi-finals (as the club have done for six successive seasons).
And Barca are far from invincible – they've lost their last two away games, and were walloped 3-0 at home in their last Champions League knockout game. That, though, was last year's semi-final second leg against Bayern when they were chasing a 4-0 deficit rather than seeking to extend a two-goal lead.
A City on top form are capable of scaring and scoring against any opponents, but they've only won three of their last seven and Pellegrini appears dangerously blind to the shortcomings of Martin Demichelis.
If nothing else, the match will be a decent indication of how City intend to face difficult away games. They struggled on their travels earlier this season and have a tough tour coming up. After Hull at the weekend – and presuming they don't go through at Camp Nou – City face United, Arsenal and Liverpool.
It will take a counter-attacking display of almost era-defining noteworthiness for City to turn the tie round; you suspect that if it were available, they may be content with a good display and honour restored.
Player to watch: Sergio Aguero (Man City)
City are very far from a one-man team, but Aguero's as close as you'll get: their recent three-wins-in-seven wobble started when his hamstring went in the 5-1 win at Spurs, since which none of City's three main strikers have scored. The man who has bagged 73 in 113 since a £38 million move from Atletico Madrid will want to put on a show back in Spain and City will need him to – even if it would only increase Real Madrid's rumoured interest. His compatriot Javier Mascherano may be in for an interesting night.
Pellegrini will be serving a touchline ban for his 11th managerial visit to Camp Nou. It might bring him a change of luck: he's only won there once, in March 2008, the winner for his Villarreal side being scored by Jon Dahl Tomasson. Even that ended well for Barca: when the Yellow Submarine went on to overhaul them and finish second, it prompted the Blaugrana board to evict Frank Rijkaard and elevate Pep Guardiola.
Facts and figures
- Barca have only lost 1 of their last 18 knockout games at Camp Nou in the Champions League (0-3 vs Bayern Munich in last season’s semi-final).
- Out of 30 home games in the Champions League knockout stages, Barca have only lost 2 by at least 2 clear goals (0-2 vs Real Madrid in April 2002 and 0-3 vs Bayern in May 2013).
- Only 1 English club has managed to beat Barca at Camp Nou in the Champions League (in 17 games): Liverpool in February 2007 (1-2).
- Man City are winless in their last 3 Champions League games against Spanish clubs (D1 L2).
- Man City have won their 3 away games in the Champions League this season, including a 3-2 victory against current European champions Bayern.
- Man City have only kept 1 clean sheet in their last 13 Champions League games (3-0 win vs Viktoria Plzen last September).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Despite their recent travails there's goals in City… but at both ends. Entertaining 2-1 home win.
PSG VS LEVERKUSEN
- PSG are unbeaten in their last 27 home games in European competition (including qualifiers - W17 D10). Their last defeat dates back to November 2006 against Hapoel Tel-Aviv in UEFA Cup.
- Leverkusen have scored 56% of their goals from set-pieces (5 out of 9), the highest ratio among the 16 remaining teams in the competition.
Meanwhile, on Screen Two...
Much of the interest in the clash between nouveau-riche arrivistes Paris Saint-Germain and blue-collar workers Bayer Leverkusen evaporated after the French side won 4-0 in Germany, with a typically explosive double from the marvellously watchable Zlatan Ibrahimovic and a first goal by former Newcastle hub Yohan Cabaye.
Those who watch the expected procession of a second leg may do so as statistical rubber-neckers: Leverkusen have lost their last six Champions League knockout games with five goals for, 22 against, whereas PSG haven't failed to score in the last 15 Champions League games since October 2012. Zlatan, too, will attract a viewer or two, but only the most distant of dreamers will expect Leverkusen to make a match of this.