Camp Nou, Barcelona
March 12, 2014; 19:45 BST
Barcelona host Manchester City at the Camp Nou in the second leg of their Champions League round-of-16 clash tomorrow. The Spanish side took a massive two-goal lead in the first leg at the Etihad Stadium as Manchester City went down to 10-men following Martin Demichelis’ dismissal.
Barcelona are of course the favourites to progress through to the next round at this stage, but they have looked a bit shaky recently and are coming into this fixture with a disappointing loss against Valladolid in the league. With Sergio Aguero bolstering Manchester City’s attack, they are sure to be tested in this match. But Manchester City haven’t really set the stage alight recently as well and despite their League Cup win over Sunderland earlier this month, they have won only three of their last seven matches in all competitions and are coming into this game on the back of a shock defeat against Championship side Wigan.
With Unpredictable form, shaky defences and exciting attacks, this match has all the ingredient to be a high scoring affair.
Team news and tactics
Gerardo Martino doesn’t have too many injury concerns to contain with ahead of this big game. Jonathan dos Santos, whose last appearance for Barcelona was in the 0-2 win over Almeria back in September, is still out of contention along with Isaac Cuenca. But the big miss for Barcelona is likely to be the possible absence of Andres Iniesta. The Spaniard missed out their clash against Valladolid due to a family bereavement and is likely to sit out this game as well.
Martino is expected to make two changes to the side he fielded against Valladolid at the weekend. Jordi Alba will replace Adriano at the left back role, while Alexis Sanchez, who came on as a substitute in the second half, will start in place of Pedro. With Iniesta unavailable, Martino will stick with the midfield of Xavi, Sergio Busquets and Xavi.
Martino has come under a lot of pressure from media and fans after his side suffered their second loss in their last three league matches. This run of poor results means they are now four points behind Real Madrid in the league. This difference will be difficult to claw back and Barcelona must now concentrate on Europe and complete their task against Manchester City.
The Catalan side have conceded five goals in their last three games and they have looked vulnerable at the back, especially against counter-attacks. Man City on the other hand are perhaps one of the best exponent of counter-attacks in England with players Samir Nasri and Sergio Aguero in attack. It will be interesting to see Barcelona’s tactics in this game. Will they sit back and look to frustrate Manchester City by hogging possession or will they look to kill the game in the first half itself by attacking the English club.
Expected starting line-up (4-3-3): Valdes (GK); Alves, Puyol, Pique, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Fabregas; Sanchez, Messi, Neymar
Manuel Pellegrini has few concerns in the defence ahead of this fixture. Martin Demichelis, who has come under a lot of criticism recent due to his performances, will be unavailable for selection as he serves his suspension for the red card he picked up in the first leg at the Etihad Stadium. There are also concerns about the fitness of Stevan Jovetic and Matija Nastasic.
Jovetic, whose last appearance came in the 1-0 win over Stoke City last month, could return for Manchester City’s trip to face Hull City at the weekend, but is unlikely to be available for this game. Nastasic on the other hand has been struggling with his fitness since the 0-1 loss against Chelsea, which has somewhat forced Pellegrini’s hands to stick with Demichelis.
Pellegrini rested some regular first team players in the FA Cup Quarter Final match against Wigan Athletic, which they surprisingly lost 2-1. He is expected to make as many as seven changes to the side he used in that game. Joe Hart to return to goal, while the complete back-four will be changed. Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany and Aleksandar Kolarov will replace Micah Richards, Martin Demichelis and Gael Clichy respectively, while Joleon Lescott is expected to retain his place at the center of the defence.
In the midfield Fernandinho will replace Javi Garcia, while Jesus Navas will make way for David Silva. Pellegrini played with only one striker upfront in a 4-2-3-1 formation in the first leg at home and almost showed too much respect for Barcelona with his team selection as he deployed both Clicky and Kolarov on the left wing. But he will have to look for goals in this game from the start and will change to a more attacking 4-4-2 formation with Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo leading the line.
Expected starting line-up (4-4-2): Hart (GK); Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov; Nasri, Fernandinho, Toure, Silva; Negredo, Aguero
Players to watch-out for: Lionel Messi (Barcelona); Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
Prediction: Barcelona 2-2 Manchester City