For the second year in a row City will go head to head with Champions League juggernauts Barcelona. The last meeting saw City dumped out of the competition at the wrong end of a 4-1 aggregate score line and Pellegrini will hope that this year his men can cause an upset. After slogging through one of the toughest groups in the competition City will have to produce more European heroics if they are to get past Messi and co.
There are a few unsettling statistics for City fans. In his time in La Liga Pellegrini faced the Spaniards a total of 22 times, recording only 4 victories versus 14 defeats. Barcelona’s impressive defensive form (7 conceded in the last 15) will ensure another stern test for the blues and City will be without the suspended Yaya Toure, leaving Pellegrini with a selection headache in the heart of his midfield. City’s home form in Europe does not inspire much hope, 3 wins in the last ten home fixtures hardly the most inspiring statistic.
With such a stellar line up it is hard to focus on any one player that will cause trouble for City. The quality of Barca is such that if Pellegrini allocates too many men to any one player there is always another that will pop up and cause problems. Surround Messi with three defenders and you leave Neymar and Suarez free to cause trouble and even if you manage to tie up this white hot trio, Barcelona still have plenty of men capable of scoring goals from midfield.
Discipline is what’s needed on Tuesday. With Aguero, Clichy, Dzeko and Zabaletta all one booking away from a ban the Blues will need to keep it clean and organised. Losing a man in each leg last time around was crippling for City and they will need every man they can to try and pin down the elusive and free scoring strikers. The pied piper Messi is capable of leading defenders all over the park and exposing huge gaps that Neymar and Suarez will take advantage of, making the idea of man marking redundant in this situation. The only option for Pellegrini is to cut off the supply at the source because, as so many games are, it will be won and lost in the middle of the pitch.
Much will rest on the shoulders of Fernandinho. He was impressive in the 5-0 whitewash against Newcastle, providing a solid platform alongside Toure and leaving Nasri, Silva and Aguero free to apply the more delicate brushstrokes up front. Sitting in front of the back four, Fernandinho was quietly effective in stamping out any small fires Newcastle managed to kindle while allowing Toure to take care of the midfield distribution. Tuesday will be a firestorm however, and his defensive acumen will be tested repeatedly against one of the most ferocious attack forces to ever play the game.
City will not be overwhelmed, and there is a real possibility that they can pull off a smash and grab against the Catalans. While playing for Atletico Aguero managed a ratio of a goal every second game against Barca and three goals in his last two league fixtures will reassure those doubting his form or fitness. Registering nine goals in their last two outings with only one conceded, City will fancy their chances at home. The presence of Frank Lampard may well provide the steadying hand that comes with over 100 Champions League appearances and his experience could provide the remedy to City’s Champions League naivety.
It will not be easy but if discipline can be maintained in defence and in midfield then a strong showing at home could be enough to tip the scales in City’s favour.