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UEFA Champions League
Manchester City Vs Barcelona Live
Date: Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Time : 19:45 GMT
Barcelona-Manchester City Preview: Pellegrini’s side eye famous comeback
The Capital One Cup winners trail the Blaugrana 2-0 going into the second leg but the Liga champions were beaten on Saturday and could be vulnerable
By Matthew Rogerson
More On : FC Barcelona, Manchester City FC, Manuel Pellegrini, FC Barcelona vs Manchester City FC
Lionel Messi Vincent Kompany Manchester City Barcelona UEFA Champions League
Manchester City may never have a better chance of overturning a two-goal deficit against Barcelona than at Camp Nou on Wednesday.
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After seeing Martin Demichelis sent off shortly before the hour mark, City slumped to a 2-0 defeat in the first leg of their last-16 tie with Barca at the Etihad Stadium last month.
While Lionel Messi opened the scoring from the penalty spot, having been fouled by Demichelis, it was Dani Alves who struck the hammer blow in stoppage time to hand City an almighty task to progress.
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Barca have reached at least the final four of the competition in their last six attempts, lifting the trophy in 2009 and 2011.
Yet the Catalan giants head into Wednesday’s game off the back of a surprise La Liga defeat to struggling Real Valladolid, which put a major dent in their domestic title ambitions.
The 1-0 loss at the Estadio Municipal Jose Zorrilla leaves Barca four points behind leaders Real Madrid ahead of the crucial Clasico towards the end of the month.
While Barca have been below their best since winning in Manchester, Manuel Pellegrini’s men have endured mixed fortunes.
The Chilean picked up his first trophy as City boss with victory over Sunderland in the League Cup before his side crashed out of the FA Cup on Sunday at the hands of old foes Wigan Athletic
The Catalans may have one foot in the Champions League’s last eight but for the first time in years they are mired in problems both on the pitch and off it
Mess que un club: Martino’s men should still beat City but the natives are restless
Barcelona are heavy favourites to knock the world’s richest club out of the Champions League here on Wednesday, writes Oliver Holt in Barcelona.
They take a 2-0 first leg lead into their showdown with Manchester City at the Nou Camp and stand on the brink of the quarter-finals.
But even a casual stroll down the wide Avinguda Diagonal near their stadium fortress was enough to betray the fact that all is far from well here.
The newspaper headlines screaming from the newsstands spoke of crisis and shame after Barcelona’s shock defeat to Real Valladolid on Saturday.
Marca devoted its front page to a picture of Lionel Messi, head bowed, with the headline: Messi at his Lowest Ebb.
Mundo Deportivo tried to reassure its readers with a quote from new club president Josep Maria Bartomeu insisting Messi doesn’t want to leave Barca.
And Sport newspaper went for a rallying cry, reminding Barcelona that they are the greatest team in history. “If you want it, you can take it,” their headline said.
It is not just that Barca have slipped to third in La Liga behind Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid – uncertainty is afflicting the club in several different areas for the first time in many years.
To many, this city represents football paradise, but there is trouble in it now. The club – which boasts it is ‘more than a club‘ – has been held up in recent years as the model of everything that is good about the game.
But in recent weeks and months, its image has been sullied off the field as it has fought to maintain its supremacy on it.
In January, Sandro Rosell resigned as president after becoming engulfed in scandal over the signing of Brazilian star Neymar last May.
Rossell said the transfer cost £48.6m but after his departure, documents showed the full cost to be more than £71m.
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The club was then charged with tax fraud, prompting them to make a “voluntary contribution” of more than £11m in taxes.
“We paid because of prudence, because there is a possible different interpretation,” Bartomeu told the BBC this week. “So we want to be prudent. We don’t want to take any risks.
“Barca is a very well known brand name in the world and we have to take care of the club and doing this is prudent to keep the good image of our club.”
As yet, there is no confirmation that the move has brought an end to the criminal investigation.
Barcelona now trail Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid by four points and still have to travel to the Bernabeu later this month.
There are other issues, too. The great side that has brought them so much glory is ageing together.
Their midfield general, Xavi, is 34 and starting to fall prey to more and more niggling injuries.
Their inspirational captain, Carles Puyol, who has become more of a figurehead, will leave at the end of the season.
And he will be followed by goalkeeper Victor Valdes, the holder of three Champions League winner’s medals.
There are also deep concerns that Neymar and Messi have not hit it off and that there is not room for both of them in the same team.
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Messi has been usurped as the greatest player in the world by Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo and the feeling that this is a team either in transition or decline is growing.
It adds to the suspicion that City and manager Manuel Pellegrini showed the Catalan giants too much respect at the Etihad in the first leg.
City seemed overawed by Barca and allowed them to dictate the tempo, something they have been unable to do in the defeats to Valladolid and Real Sociedad.
Manchester City v Barcelona
Inevitably, pressure is starting to grow on Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino, who took over just before the start of this season.
“I need to have strength,” Martino said on Tuesday. “I need to be strong and powerful, otherwise I shouldn’t be a manager. I am not listening to all of the criticism. I have to train my team and make them play better.
“It’s not an issue of motivation. We have enough good players here to think about being successful this season. We are still in La Liga, we are in a good position in the Champions League and have the chance to win the Copa De Rey.
“I think we have failed in different moments for different circumstances. But if we want to focus on three defeats we have had this season, we were defeated in different ways.
“One day we can play well against Manchester City, then badly against Real Sociedad and Real Valladolid. This is not something a team wants. But I’m not here to talk about the criticism. If we play well, the criticism will change. I have to focus on the football, not what is happening outside of the football.”
Victory against City will lift some of the pressure temporarily, defeat is unthinkable.
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Manchester City’s always far-fetched hopes of completing an unprecedented quadruple were ended on Sunday when they were dumped out of the FA Cup at home by second-tier Wigan Athletic. With the prospect of having to overturn a 2-0 deficit at the Camp Nou in order to ensure their possible trophy haul is not reduced to two on Wednesday, there is reason for negativity in the blue half of Manchester. But a look across to their opponents may well raise their spirits.
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For, while it was a bad weekend for City, it was a worse and potentially far more consequential one for Barcelona. A 1-0 reversal at Real Valladolid dropped Barcelona four points behind Real Madrid in the Primera Division title race. It is far from an insurmountable deficit, especially with the two sides to meet in less than two weeks. Yet, it was a defeat that felt far for more significant than just the loss of three points.
It was Barcelona’s third loss in their past six league encounters. This most recent one came against a side who were in the relegation zone, yet who deservedly came out on top. Barcelona were abject in almost every department against Valladolid. Their defense continues to be exposed in familiar and fresh ways and with more regularity than before. Meanwhile, while Barcelona had their customary 75 percent possession they did precious little with it. Lionel Messi still doesn’t look quite right, although he is not being aided by those around him. Neymar, who started his Barcelona career so promisingly has been anonymous since his return from injury and the coinciding intense scrutiny and subsequent fallout from his transfer to the club. That unsavory episode has increased the suggestion that it is a club that is losing their identity both on and off the pitch.
There has been much scrutiny of the team’s alteration in playing style under Gerardo “Tata” Martino. While the initial reaction may have been overblown, the coach, despite the incredibly difficult circumstances of both his appointment and his tenure to date, is now rightly under scrutiny. The team was sloppy in possession against Valladolid, resorting more to hopeful long passes than it is hard to remembering them doing in some time.
Barca Strike Late To Take Control
Martino’s team selections have also been odd at times. Opting for Alex Song and Sergio Busquets in midfield in the defeat to Real Sociedad was hard to comprehend. There is an argument that Cesc Fabregas has been Barcelona’s best player this season, yet he is invariably the first man Martino drags off during games.
Where Martino did get it right was in the first leg against Manchester City. With Fabregas and Andres Iniesta in the side, Barcelona dictated the play in a way that will have been desired away from home against a side with so many attacking weapons. While Barcelona rarely penetrated before the sending off of Martin Demichelis, Martino was proved correct if his assumption was that City’s flaky defense would eventually crack if forced to be on the back foot for lengthy spells.
There are two ways to look at the first leg from City’s point of view. On the one hand, they largely kept Barcelona at bay until the sending off. Yet, it was not a Barcelona team designed to penetrate. And City’s preoccupation with their opponents negated the strength of their side going forward. This was City’s home leg and against a team that have proven to be far more vulnerable away from home than at the Camp Nou in the Champions League in recent seasons. The tactics set out by Manuel Pellgrini, while in part understandable, seemed to fuel a sense of anxiety in his team together with an inflated deference toward their opponents.
By allowing Barcelona to dictate the game, the former Real Madrid coach was putting a heck of a lot of responsibility on a defense that frankly is not up to scratch for a club of their ambitions. That defense, which has been sorely neglected amid mass strengthening of the squad elsewhere, was exposed once more in defeat to Wigan. Demichelis, who will be suspended at the Camp Nou, made another error to give away a penalty, while there were mistakes aplenty in the concession of Wigan’s second goal. Gael Clichy was one of the players most exposed and it is the left-back berth that provides Pellegrini with perhaps his biggest headache heading to Spain.
With Dani Alves, Barcelona targeted that area at the Etihad. Pellegrini had anticipated such a ploy and doubled up with Clichy and Aleksandar Kolarov down the left. When Kolarov was withdrawn following the sending off, Barcelona really prospered and, of course, it was Alves who scored the important second goal late on. City’s predicament means that Pellegrini is unlikely to field both left-backs again in the return leg. The problem is that neither particularly convinces defensively right now. Given that the man likely to play in front of Clichy or Kolarov, David Silva, drifts inside constantly, it could be that Fernandinho or left-sided center-back Joleon Lescott is forced to come across often.
But this is now a match where, as daunting a prospect as it is, City have to focus on what they can do with the ball and transition quickly and effectively when they win it back. The return of Sergio Aguero is a major boost, with the forward’s movement missed in the opening leg. The worry is that City’s blistering attack has slowed down dramatically in recent weeks. Stevan Jovetic remains troubled by injury, Alvaro Negredo is apparently still not right physically, while Edin Dzeko has been an even more frustrating presence than normal of late. City will have to be firing on all cylinders if they are to get a desired result on Wednesday.
Even that may not be enough. For all Barcelona’s problems, the situation in the tie means that Martino should be faced with a simple choice in terms of his game plan. He can play with the same tactics as he did at the Etihad: pack the midfield and control and even stifle the game through possession. It is a chance for Barcelona to fall back on what they know and can do so well. Barcelona are very much vulnerable, but City’s best chance to exploit it may well have come and gone three weeks ago.
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