In a rematch of last 16’s tie, defending English champions Manchester City prepare to host Spanish giants Barcelona. The Catalonian-based side won both legs last year finishing up with a 4-1 victory on aggregate.
Barcelona are aiming to reach an impressive eighth consecutive Champions League quarter-final and they’ll fancy their chances against a side that they dominated across two legs last time around. Luis Enrique’s side eased through the group stages of the competition and have been in electric form of late. A 1-0 loss against Malaga on Saturday snapped an 11-game winning run in all competitions.
Enrique also has the luxury of a virtually fully fit squad. He’ll only be deprived of the services of defenders Douglas Vermaelen and Thomas Vermaelen for this game.
Luis Suarez is expected to make his return to England after leaving Liverpool in a record deal last summer. Suarez’s performances for Barcelona have been mixed, he has just seven goals in his first 22 games for the club, but there are signs that he is learning a different one compared to his goal-scoring devastation he wrecked in the English Premier League last season. Playing as part of a front trio alongside Lionel Messi and Neymar, he has picked up 12 assists and the club’s recent run of form can be in part attributed to renewed chemistry and the emergence of that front trio as a serious attacking threat. Man City might still be happier playing against this version of Suarez compared with the player who almost drove Liverpool to an EPL title in 2013/14.
Man City snuck through the group stages of the competition thanks to a last ditch turnaround against Bayern Munich. Manuel Pellegrini’s side have pulled themselves back into the EPL title race, but they still have a lot to prove in this competition. Avoiding a second consecutive last-16 exit will be challenging, and especially so considering the absence of the all-important Yaya Toure in midfield. On the positive front, Pellegrini will have James Milner’s services at his disposal, if he chooses to use them.
Wilfred Bony is expected to start alongside Sergio Aguerro with Samir Nasri and David Silva also likely to feature in an exciting attack. It’ll be interesting to see how City approach this first leg on home soil. Naturally an attacking team, they’d be advised to stick to their guns and put pressure on a Barcelona squad that isn’t necessarily as assured as previous editions.
Betting Preview: Man City win 11/4, Barcelona win 11/10, Draw 13/5
Barcelona are the big favourites to win this game and deservedly so. Man City are a high quality football team, but the absence of Toure in this game is a big blow, he really is the central force that drives this team and connects the defence and the forwards. For some reason Pellegrini’s team have not performed as well in this competition as they have in English domestic competition.
Meanwhile, Barcelona are in-form, Suarez will be fired up and they have a deep, healthy lineup to choose from. It’ll be a competitive, quality football match, but expect Barcelona to deal a decisive blow winning the first leg away from home.
The Pick: Barcelona 11/10