WILL DYER (@w2Dyer) previews Pep’s return to the Camp Nou in what promises to be the beautiful game at it’s finest. Can Man City recover from their three game winless run or will Barca take control of Group C?
Barcelona v Manchester City | Wednesday 19:45 | BT Sport 1
A gargantuan game in which Pep Guardiola makes his second return to the Camp Nou as manager of a different club. The last time was in the Champions League semi-final in May 2015 when Guardiola’s Bayern Munich lost 3-0. They also lost the return leg of that tie 3-2.
Manchester City have lost all four of their Champions League games against the Catalan club by an aggregate score of 7-2 but three of those defeats came by just one goal margins and City have put on some scintillating displays so far this season.
The manner in which they can dismantle teams suggests that they could be about to break into Europe’s elite category. Raheem Sterling, Kelechi Iheanacho, John Stones and Kevin de Bruyne are four supremely gifted individuals that have age on their side.
If City can keep this core of players together and Pep continues to coach this magical football, I see no reason why City can’t win European silverware on more than one occasion over the next decade.
However, Barca, their opponents on Wednesday night are the masters of ‘tiki-taka’ football. It’s quite hard to predict the fallout of a tie between two teams essentially vying to achieve the same style of football.
Arsenal and Swansea last weekend is a good example of two teams who like to play a short passing game in which they dominate possession. That game produced five goals and saw the teams have a similar percentage of the ball.
I think that it’s safe to predict that although Pep will demand his players don’t deviate from their game, Man City will still have less possession than the hosts. Playing Barcelona at the Camp Nou is an intimidating prospect for any side and City have gone off the boil; failing to win any of their last three matches.
The Blaugrana eased past Deportivo La Coruna 4-0 at the weekend, a result that was very much welcomed after the horror show in Vigo two weeks ago when Marc-Andre Ter Stegen’s howler put a final nail in the coffin to gift Celta Vigo a 4-3 win.
The Sky Blues’ goalkeeper is another man returning to his old employers. Claudio Bravo has rightfully come in for some criticism after more than a few dubious decisions have left him red-faced behind a back four that still cannot shut up shop.
I’m all for playing out of the back but at this rate these two will have a feature-length blooper reel commissioned for them and the longer this goes on the more foolish the rejection of Joe Hart looks.
It’s fair to say that Barcelona have had a mixed start to the season. Two defeats in the league against Celta Vigo and Alaves have left them two points behind both of their Madrid rivals.
In the last Champions League game-round they were in trouble. Moenchengladbach lead through Eden Hazard’s brother, Thorgan, until the 65th minute when Arda Turan equalized. A Gerard Pique goal gave them the win 10 minutes later.
That result means that a win here for Barcelona would make them almost certainties to win the group and would also put City at risk of surrendering second spot to either Celtic or Borussia.
There’s no significant injury news for either side. Which means that Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar are set to start as a front three for the first time in five games, since the 1-1 draw with Atletico last month. Since then Paco Alcacer and Arda Turan have filled in for Messi who had a groin injury.
City’s defensive record is still yet to improve under Pep; they’ve not kept a clean sheet in any of their last six away games and Barca have only failed to score in one of their last 20 home Champions League ties. Therefore, it seems pretty unlikely that the hosts will fail to score.
Barca have also scored two or more in all of their last eight home European fixtures, the problem is City were the last team to prevent them scoring twice; back in March 2015.
We should bear in mind though that that game was the second leg of a Round of 16 tie in which Barca already had a 2-1 aggregate lead. Taking the lead in the first half meant they could afford to control the game and didn’t have to push for another goal.
At the other end of the pitch, Barca have been pretty shaky at the back themselves. They’ve conceded 10 goals in as many games and, as Pep Guardiola’s charges are averaging 2.57 goals a game this season, it’s pretty hard to see a clean sheet for either side.
Nothing screams at me in the match odds. Barcelona are shortening into 1/2 which is the price I expected them to be. City aren’t 6/1 often but it’s a price I’m prepared to let go by as the Catalans have lost just one of their last 40 European games at the Camp Nou.
An angle I like is cards. The Citizens are used to getting things their own way. When they don’t they have the tendency to get very frustrated. In their last four games against Barcelona they’ve picked up a total of 16 bookings and never less than 45 booking points.
Skybet have Man City at 9/4 to receive 40 or more booking points; four yellows would do it but they’ve also had a man sent off in three of their last four against Barcelona and if that happens again we’ll be well on our way to a winner.
Sergio Aguero has played more games against Barcelona than any other club (14). Despite losing 10 of those matches he has managed to score seven times.
Kun is the joint top scorer in the competition so far with three goals and overall he has 11 in just nine appearances this season. At 2/1 with 888 he is too big.