Sergio Aguero vs. Gerard Pique
Let’s all allow ourselves to dream for a minute and think about Manchester City lifting their first European Cup in Berlin on June 6th. Stranger things have happened before, right? *cut to Istanbul, Munich, or wherever you see fit* What would be the key moment in such a triumph?
Anything which happens to City between now and then would have to be pretty special to surpass Sergio Aguero’s hat-trick to turn around what looked like a lost cause against Bayern Munich in November. It was a night the Argentinean broke through the glass ceiling to emulate the very best in the world, and if he’s on that type of form again then there will be very little that Barca can do to stop him.
It’s bad news for Gerard Pique, then, that Aguero has looked back to his best in City’s last two games, the 4-1 win at Stoke and the 5-0 victory over Newcastle – scoring three in two along the way.
David Silva vs. Sergio Busquets
It isn’t Aguero who is making City tick at the moment though, but rather the gliding, masterful force that is David Silva, who has added even more goals to his game this season to get as close to perfection as he’s ever got before.
With nine, he has already surpassed his goals tally for all of his other four City campaigns, and with Manuel Pellegrini likely to drop Edin Dzeko and field the Spanish international behind Aguero and in between Samir Nasri and James Milner, drifting into dangerous positions will be the order of the evening for a man in form. It’s just that when he gets into those positions he’s likely to find his international teammate Sergio Busquets there.
It is a battle which could define the tie.
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Barcelona Luis Suarez vs. Liverpool Luis Suarez
You can’t just focus on the goal record – seven in 22, tame by his standards – but Luis Suarez certainly doesn’t seem himself since he swapped Merseyside for Catalonia in the summer, all because of a variety of reasons.
A very drastic need to curb some of his on-field behaviour and less of a necessity to do everything himself (passing to Lionel Messi and Neymar is a little more tolerable than passing to Iago Aspas and Victor Moses) has probably made him a better all-round person and player, but has that reduced his effectiveness somewhat?
The Suarez who ran at defences, twisting and turning and hunting down a goal like a man possessed isn’t there at the moment, but on his first return to England will we see that player return?
Barca might need him to.
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Fernandinho vs. Himself
The memory of Brazil’s 7-1 World Cup hammering by Germany might come and go a little like post-traumatic stress disorder for Fernandinho, who has functioned well (but not as well as last season) when he’s forgotten about it, but struggled to do anything when he’s remembered about that fateful night in Belo Horizonte when he was taken off at half-time with the score 5-0.
He was superb in Rome on the night City memorably reached this stage with a performance of true European pedigree, but he’s struggled at other times this season as his side have let themselves down.
Do that to a large extent here and there will be little point in the second leg, and – shorn of the suspended Yaya Toure again – Fernandinho is going to have to be a leader.
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Manchester City vs. The Champions League
The talk of Manchester City’s relationship with the Champions League has now become a little tiresome given that it seems to crop up before every one of their European matches, but given that the last one was that excellent victory in Rome then there shouldn’t be a perceived lack of interest here.
This is a huge match and, having suffered from stage fright at this stage of this competition against this opposition last season, the English champions should be more prepared this time.
There are simply no excuses any more.
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