We throw around the expression "big game" too much in football, because we love to overreact and oversell stuff, but sometimes that expression is actually fitting. Tuesday's UEFA Champions League match between Manchester City and Barcelona at Etihad Stadium is a big game in every sense of the word. Both teams are talented, both teams want and need a victory for reasons of their own, and both teams have amazing players and coaches. Everything you need is there.
Barça need a victory because they're Barcelona and that's always the expectation, but for City three points are even more vital. With just four points after three games, they need at least six in the next three to guarantee a place in the European Cup's knockout stage. Being relegated to the Europa League is not an option, but a loss on Tuesday would make that option almost a reality.
For Pep Guardiola, it's a chance to redeem himself after the 4-0 loss at Camp Nou, and having seen his six-game winless streak broken against West Brom, Pep feels good about his team again. They need a near perfect game plan to beat Barça, but Pep is one of the few who can come up with it.
Whatever happens on Tuesday night, one thing's for sure: it'll be fun.
MATCH INFO, HOW TO WATCH
Date/Time: Tuesday, November 1, 2016, 8:45pm local time, 7:45pm BST (UK), 3:45pm ET, 12:45am PT (US), 12:15am IST (India, next day)
Venue: Etihad Stadium, Manchester, England
Referee: Viktor Kassai (HUN)
TV listings: Fox Sports 1 (US), Fox Deportes (US - Spanish), BT Sports 2 (UK), TSN4 (Canada), TEN 2 (India), TV3, Antena 3 (Spain), elsewhere
Online streaming: Fox Sports GO, FoxSoccer2GO (US), BT Sport Live Streaming (UK), TSN GO (Canada), TEN Sports Live (India), elsewhere
Man City: No Pablo Zabaleta, no Bacary Sagna, no right-backs. Sure, there's young Pablo Maffeo, but the starting right-back on Tuesday will have to mark Neymar. Yes, Maffeo did stop Marcus Rashford last week, but Rashford is a few years away from being a Neymar. So Pep might as well have tested the formation he'll use against Barcelona in the game against West Brom.
Fernando was the right-back in an actual back four, moving into midfield to help Fernandinho in possession. It was a great idea and Fernando looked very comfortable, and that may have given Guardiola the confidence to do the same against Barça. Fernando is a great defender, which will be important against Neymar, and with the ball he'll have fewer touches as full-back, which is good since he's not exactly the most skilled player on the ball we've ever seen.
Vincent Kompany should start having rested for a week after the Manchester Derby, and if we see Kompany starting a third game in a row, that might give us a reason to be excited. John Stones should partner him on defense, and after a mistake-free game at the weekend, he's confident again. The doubt is Aleksandar Kolarov or Gaël Clichy at left-back, and the Frenchman might get the nod thanks to his defensive skills. Remember, he's guarding Messi.
In the middle, the Fernandinho - David Silva - Ilkay Gundogan is starting to flourish, and with Kevin De Bruyne returning, it's interesting to see Pep's game plan. He played De Bruyne out wide at the Hawthorns, and if that game was really a dress rehearsal for Barça, the Belgian was great there, and Dinho, Silva and Gundo absolutely bossed midfield. On the other wing, Raheem Sterling, Nolito and Leroy Sané are all in contention to start, and I do think Sterling's pace will give you the advantage here.
Now, the striker. Pep used De Bruyne as a False Nine at Camp Nou, and that worked well, but Sergio Agüero just scored a brace at the weekend and played his best game of the season. It's the kind of performance that warrants you a starting place in the next game, especially when it's as big a game as this one. If De Bruyne plays wide, as expected, then El Kun will play. And he needs to be huge again.
Barcelona: No Gerard Piqué, no Jordi Alba, no Andrés Iniesta. That trio is immense for Barça, and their absences are just gigantic in all phases of the team, both with and without the ball. The good news is that coach Luis Enrique has another trio he can count on — the 'MSN' trio. Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar have played fantastic football in the Champions League so far, and all three may have an easier path to goal facing Willy Caballero instead of Claudio Bravo.
Barça have five players missing out through injury and have Academy players in the squad, but the probable starting lineup is as strong as any other team in the world. Without Piqué, Alba and Iniesta. This team is insane.
You know what? I think City will pull this off! 2-1 home team, Kun and Kevin.