Tuesday 1st November 20:45 CET
Hallowe’en has passed but the home side will be hoping that something of the supernatural is still present in the ether as they may require the sorcery of the black arts to overcome this visiting Barcelona side. Unable to stem the tide when they met two weeks ago, City will look to home advantage as a means to get a foot on the ladder in this tie.
The quiet 12th man
The problem there is that City fans have rarely given the impression that they’re mightily bothered by their team’s efforts in Europe’s premier cup competition. Of course, with Barca rolling into town, one would suspect that there’ll be fewer empty seats than usual but their gleaming stadium has often lacked the noise we’re used to hearing at other grounds and coming off the back of their 4-0 away loss a fortnight back, the fans may not feel overly inclined to become the fabled 12th man.
Reasons for cheer
In the real world, though, the team must do it on the pitch, noise or no. They will be slightly aided in this regard by a confidence-restoring 4-0 win at the weekend and will have been pleased to note Barcelona’s difficulties in beating bottom-of-the-table Granada on the same day. Another fact in their favour is the spate of injuries that Barca have suffered of late.
Knocks and bruises
Great though they may be, there has probably never been a team that could comfortably cope with the loss of players like Iniesta, Pique and (likely) Alba. Iniesta, especially, is a massive loss. The diminutive playmaker’s absence will be as keenly felt as a room suddenly starved of air. Much responsibility will rest on the shoulders of Ivan Rakitic as it will be his job to link Barca’s play and create foundations upon which their front three can flourish.
But there’s probably not a huge amount that he can do about the backline. Robbed of Pique, Alba and Jeremy Mathieu, the visitor’s defense, always a potential weakness, looks more vulnerable than normal. Guardiola will surely not repeat his tactic of keeping Sergio Aguero on the bench. If he does, he will be committing a most egregious error as Aguero is City’s best goal scorer by some distance and can inflict damage on the Barca rearguard.
Reasons for fear
Which is to say nothing about City’s defense, which has at times made Barca resemble a Franco Baresi-led AC Milan. True, that is quite the exaggeration but the essential point remains valid – when put up against elite opposition, City’s defense has looked very poor. Captain and defensive leader, Vincent Kompany, is feeling his way back from injury but looks some way off being match fit whilst his underlings at centre back have all failed to impress. Switching between a three man and four man defense can’t help with consistency, either.
This column would much rather the match be a tour de force between two of Europe’s strongest teams than a game whose result is decided by calamitous defending courtesy of expensive feet but the shared potential for comic missteps is such that we’re likely to see enough basic mistakes to leave us shaking our heads sadly at the state of the ‘modern game’ before effecting a swift about-turn to catch our plummeting jaw when one of the geniuses on the pitch decides to snatch salvation from the jaws of despair and remind us why we bother watching this stuff in the first place.
We’re inclined to think that City will offer more resistance and a slightly more clued-in approach than was seen in the Camp Nou two weeks ago. And certainly, if Aguero starts and can take advantage of Barca’s very high defensive line, their attacking threat will be considerably greater, too. Barca are not as strong coming into this game as they were the first for the reasons outlined above and yet, with those three boys up front, they are always a threat. This column would like to go for a draw here (priced at roughly 3/1) but reckon Barca still have enough firepower to outscore City. The price for this isn’t as short as you might think with MarathonBet offering 53/35 for Barca to come out on top.