Barcelona vs Manchester City | Wednesday 18 March | Camp Nou | 21:45
The Camp Nou plays host to what could possibly be the Premier League’s swan song in top European competition this year. City’s hopes of overturning Barcelona’s away advantage took a further blow this weekend when they suffered a horror defeat to relegation threatened Burnley. Barcelona have no such concerns, having wrestled La Liga superiority away from fierce rivals Real Madrid with a swathe of dynamic, captivating performances. Suarez has finally started to fulfill his massive potential while the perpetually amazing exploits of Lionel Messi continue to boggle the collective footballing consciousness. One thing that this game should guarantee is goals, lots of goals.
To Win (90mins)
Manchester City 57/10
Barcelona have finally regained the feel-good factor that propelled them towards European supremacy for so many years. Luis Suarez and Neymar add a direct quality that perfectly supplements the inherent tika taka impulses that underline the club. Lionel Messi is the fulcrum of a South American attacking three that could go down as the best front three in European club history. The first half in Manchester resembled a footballing clinic, with Barcelona picking their way with ease through a ragged City defence. However, they went off the boil in the second half and did look genuinely rattled after Aguero scored his fabulous goal.
Sergio Busquets will miss out, which should see Javier Mascherano come in alongside the energetic Rakitic in midfield. Iniesta and Xavi will likely duke it out for the last midfield place, which should go to the former given his added pace and incisiveness. Jordi Alba and Dani Alves served league suspensions away to Elche this weekend which should see them fresh for this crucial game. City have to score two goals, which should create huge amounts of space for Barcelona’s front three to exploit. Expect Messi to drop deep in his customary style, luring Fernandinho and Co. into spaces that they do not feel comfortable with, before applying his ruthless acceleration to devastating effect.
City’s loss at Burnley really summed up the mood at the Etihad of late. It was a labored performance that lacked any of the effervescence that one comes to expect from England’s current champions. They will be without Gael Clichy for the tie following his red card in the first leg; this may not be a bad thing considering the possibly better defensive capabilities of Kolarov. Yaya Toure makes a welcome return from suspension, which will see him link up with David Silva in a potent concoction of power and finesse that heralds City’s best chance of success in the game.
Despite his need for goals, Pellegrini will have to deviate from his 4-4-2 formation to avoid possible humiliation here. I feel that he could be more creative with his midfield formation, perhaps deploying workhorse Milner in a deeper lying role alongside the combative Fernandinho. Nasri should also play, given that he accepts more defensive responsibility. Pellegrini will be under no illusion as to the task at hand. City have lost their last three games to Barcelona and their opponents have scored twice in their last six games in the European showpiece. Pellegrini will do well to remind his side of their heroic 3-2 away win at the Allianz arena of times past, a game which saw the pugnacious Milner give his best performance in the sky blue colours.
VERDICT: Over 3.5 Goals 19/20
Barcelona will simply play the waiting game and devastate City on the counterattack. That being said, Barcelona are still defensively vulnerable and are likely to leak a goal or two throughout the ninety minutes. This represents the end of the road for City’s charge and quite possibly a further nail in Manuel Pellegrini’s managerial coffin. Over 3.5 goals looks the best bet to capitalise on a bit of value, available at 19/20.