The 2-1 first leg loss at the Etihad Stadium has made things extremely tough for Manchester City going into tonight’s second meeting with Barcelona in the Champions League’s last-16, but it needn’t be a knockout blow just yet.
Granted, the loss at Burnley’s Turf Moor in the Premier League at the weekend wasn’t the ideal way to prepare for this trip to one of European football’s most daunting venues, but with Manuel Pellegrini coming under fire from all sides and City’s participation in next season’s Champions League apparently under threat, will the English champions come out fighting?
Here are five things they need to do to enter their Barca battle with confidence.
Don’t Fixate On Lionel Messi
As we saw in the first game, if you pay too much attention to the brightest star in the Barca galaxy then another one will just come along and punish you.
Luis Suarez was apparently having a tough time of it before his return to England at the end of February, but his brace has kicked off a run of form which has seen him net six times in his last five games – the sort of form we witnessed from him at Liverpool last year.
Should City devote their attention to stopping Messi – who has scored five in his last two – then the Uruguayan will surely feast on any space they give him, and that will only result in elimination.
Get Support To Sergio Aguero Quickly
Sergio Aguero’s goal against Barcelona at the Etihad showcased just how quick the Argentinean can be when there is a loose ball in the penalty area, but it also indicated that the Catalans don’t like it when nimble attackers run beyond their centre-backs.
Quite simply, it doesn’t happen very often, and so if Aguero can get into those positions again then the element of confusion in the home defence could prove to be crucial to City’s hopes of getting the two away goals they need.
Don’t Play 4-4-2
However, that doesn’t mean that Manuel Pellegrini should again pick a 4-4-2 formation.
City lost the first leg to Barca, and then away at Liverpool and Burnley with Edin Dzeko stationed alongside Aguero in a two-pronged attack, and although the Bosnian scored in the 2-1 loss at Anfield his presence in the side has severely disrupted midfield.
A 4-2-3-1 with Aguero up top supported by David Silva, Jesus Navas and one of Samir Nasri or James Milner would give City a much better look and feel, with the midfield bolstered and the extra man in position to help deal with what is likely to be a lot of possession for the hosts.
Barcelona-Manchester City - 10 Vital Statistics
Keep Their Discipline
Martin Demichelis and Pablo Zabaleta last season, and Gael Clichy in the first leg at the Etihad this time around. In three matches against Barcelona over the past year, City have had a man sent off in all three.
Quite simply that cannot be allowed to happen again if they are serious about reaching the last eight on what could be a famous Champions League night, and so keeping their discipline and avoiding any unnecessary early cautions is going to be vital.
Hope That Fernandinho Is On-Song
The Brazilian midfielder Fernandinho is perhaps the player who most sums up his club’s season, as on his day – such as against Roma in the Stadio Olimpico on the famous evening which brought City this far – he can be quite fantastic, only to be downright awful when he’s having an off night.
With central midfield areas so crucial in Catalonia, Fernandinho is going to need to be at his solid, spiky best to counteract the waves of Barca attacks, with his position in front of an increasingly shaky looking back four so vital if Yaya Toure is to be allowed to venture forward.
If Fernandinho acts as the shield we all know he can be, then City might just have the tiniest of chances.
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