Date: 18th October 2016 at 9:08am
Written by:

When everyone settled into their seats at the venue in Monaco for the Group stage draw of the 2016/17 Champions League back in August, it was inevitable that Manchester City and Barcelona would end up in the same group. It was written in the stars. Destiny almost. You could almost imagine the ball being warmed.

UEFA got the match up they probably dreamed of as soon as City qualified for the competition proper once Guardiola had steered them through the treacherous waters of the qualifying round against Steaua Bucuresti. Not only the new Manchester City coach but the senior management team of Begiristain and Soriano, with all their previous links to the Catalan club as player (in the case of the former) and as executives…for these two clubs NOT to meet up in the elite competition of European football? Would have been a travesty for the competition, the television companies and the advertisers…

Some history.

Guardiola joined Barcelona’s La Masia academy at the age of 13. By the time that he played his last match for the club in 2001 he had played 263 games in 12 seasons in a glittering career in the first team where he scored 6 goals & won 16 trophies. After playing firstly in Italy and then Qatar he returned to his boyhood club in 2007 as coach of the reserve team. He steered this underperforming group of players to promotion in that first season in charge and, to the surprise of many (not least one José Mourinho) he was he was appointed as the successor to Frank Rijkaard as coach of the Barcelona first team. This did not turn out to be a mistake and he repaid the faith shown in him handsomely by delivering a period of unparalleled success resulting winning 14 trophies in his 4 seasons in charge.

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It would be a gross understatement to say that he has some history with this club and he will surely be afforded a warm welcome when he steps out at the Camp Nou on Wednesday evening.

That said you can be sure that Pep Guardiola will not want to leave the ground that he knows so well without something to show for his new club. After the draw against Celtic the results from the back to back fixtures against his old club have gained additional significance. Whether he can marshal his players to the extent needed to keep at bay the combined talents of probably the best strike force in world football Messrs Messi, Suarez and Neymar is a key question.

That City have encountered a slump in their form is perhaps not a surprise. The mini tour of the British Isles before the international break clearly took a toll on the squad ending as it did with the draining, hectic draw against Celtic followed by the defeat at Tottenham. Whilst they recovered their composure against a resilient Everton at the weekend and played some lovely football, their profligacy from the penalty spot and inability to breach a stubborn defence more than once denied them the morale building victory which might have added just a fraction to their self-belief before they face the Spanish league champions.

There could be wholesale changes at the back for City. After his cameo performance in the dying minutes of the game at the weekend we could see Vincent Kompany returned to the starting line up quite probably alongside John Stones. Fingers crossed he lasts the pace if so. Sagna`s injury means that Zabaleta is likely to return to the fray but whether Kolarov will be favoured against the potential trickery of Messi & co and the energetic work of Jordi Alba or Sergio Roberto will be a key decision. In midfield I would anticipate Gündogãn, Silva and De Bruyne to continue their efforts and up front Agüero is likely to be supported by Nolito and Sterling. But then Guardiola has sprung surprises before and he may do so again on Wednesday. Maybe the three at the back was a trial.

Messrs Messi, Suarez and Neymar have been prolific this season netting 24 goals between them. Other have chipped in too with Rafinha (4) and Rakitic (2) contributing to their overall tally of 45 goals this campaign. Enrique has shown himself to be just as flexible in his team selection and tactics as his opposite number using a three man backline for the second time this season at the weekend in a 4-0 defeat of Deportivo La Coruna. This fixture saw Messi return to the side (& the score sheet) after three week layoff through injury.

He will have done his homework on the opposition, he always does, but whether what has learnt will be enough to get a result for City is impossible to know. He will know that his new charges will probably have the tables turned on them in regards possession and how they play without the ball will be as important as what they do with it once they are loaned it by Luis Enriques’s team. City’s defence has proved porous recently – they haven`t kept a clean sheet since defeating Bournemouth 4-0 – and there will need to be greater resilience shown coupled with the ability to break quickly when opportunities arise. Much like Everton did against them at the weekend perhaps. Chances may be few and they have to be ready to take them.

One wonders what will happen if City get awarded a penalty. I am not sure I will be able to watch.

City’s previous record against Barcelona in the Champions League has been played 4 lost 4 and in only one of those game have they finished the match with all eleven players on the pitch. Demichelis, Clichy and Zabaleta all having been given the opportunity to get showered and changed early in the first three defeats. Three of the losses have been by a single goal margin so we haven`t been far off the pace but keeping all our players on the pitch clearly can’t do our chances any harm. ‘From little acorns do mighty oaks grow’ so goes the saying so if given the choice I might just settle for a clean sheet and point right now.

I am sure that Guardiola is relishing this opportunity – he has nothing to prove to the Catalan’s that will welcome him on Wednesday evening but he probably feels that he has something to prove to himself and to the rest of the footballing world. He will want to do well and he will want his side to play with verve, be competitive and show what they are capable of even though it is early days in his coaching career at City.

It will be a fascinating match up and time for City to come away from the Nou Camp with more than just the pride of having given their all.

Come On City!!!

Team News:

Man City:
> Out – Sagna; Delph
> Doubtful –

> Out – Cillessen
> Doubtful – Alba; Roberto

Sagna remains sidelined after collecting a hamstring strain on international duty & Delph’s return to fitness is a moveable feast. Vincent Company could make his latest comeback. Fingers crossed.

Barcelona will be missing Cillessen who joined as the replacement for Bravo. Alba and Roberto should be available for selection.

Last 6 Form:

Man City W3 D2 L1 GF13 GA8 GD+5 Form WWWDLD
Barcelona W4 D1 L1 GF16 GA7 GD+9 Form WDWWLW

Overall Form:

Man City P13 W10 D2 L1 GF34 GA12
Barcelona P14 W11 D1 L2 GF46 GA10

Previous meeting (last 5 matches):

UCL 18/03/15 Barcelona 1 Man City 0
UCL 24/02/15 Man City 1 Barcelona 2
UCL 12/03/14 Barcelona 2 Man City 1
UCL 18/02/14 Man City 0 Barcelona 2
ICF* 19/08/09 Barcelona 0 Man City 1
*ICF – International Club Friendly

Goals – City 3 Barcelona 7
Y Cards – City 13 Barcelona 7
R Cards – City 3 Barcelona 0

Top scorers (all comps):

Man City – Aguero 12; Sterling 5; Nolito 5; Iheanacho 3
Barcelona – Suarez 10; Messi 9; Turan 6; Neymar 5

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