Manchester City v Barcelona: Barcelona blueprint installed at City faces the key test

Manchester City's owners have made no secret of their desire to emulate the achievements of their Champions League opponents

In any other season, Manuel Pellegrini's observation on Manchester United might be characterised as a calculated barb but it did not feel that way. The Manchester City manager does not go in for all that confected, Mourinho-style psychological nonsense anyway, but the Chilean's observation about there being only "one team in Manchester" was a simple, unalloyed statement of fact. It was offered in Spanish at the end of a press conference which found him in uncommon light mood, smiling when the former England manager Fabio Capello's definition of the only way to deal with Lionel Messi – "with a rifle" – was put to him.

Barcelona have always been United territory – from the Rome and Wembley finals of 2009 and 2011, to the semi-final of 2008 – and it has been a measure of City's place in the shadows of Manchester that they have not even played them in a competitive match before. Yes, they would have liked this first encounter to have come with the light nights, but this match will allow them to look in the mirror and see how far they have come. Because Barcelona are most certainly the club City want to be.

The culture of Tuesday night's opposition is written into the core of new City: from Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain, the executives City's Abu Dhabi owners have asked to fashion the same sustainable excellence at the Etihad that they did at the Nou Camp, to marketeers like Esteva Caldaza, building revenues on the back of glories.

The two institutions are not the same– only one of them is a global institution and City's need for accelerated growth has meant them buying more of what the Catalans have had time to nurture. Perhaps that explains the distinct lack of anxiety around City heading into a two-leg tie in which elimination would be far less forgivable for their opponents.

 

Questions do surround City's capacity to claim a scalp on the Continent after the anticlimax of group stage defeats to Bayern Munich and Real Madrid in the past two years. But for the club's supporters there is a sense that being here at this threshold is an achievement in itself. "Of course I understand [the significance for them]," Pellegrini said. "I am absolutely sure the fans will enjoy to play this game."

The probable return of Fernandinho, lithe and leaping for the ball in open training in a way that suggested his thigh injury is behind him, was the most significant piece of information Pellegrini disclosed and in his words and demeanour there was a measure of how City are a team to fear now. He answered honestly, rather than entirely diplomatically, the question of whether the Spanish side's power had receded slightly since that Wembley final, with Chelsea, Internazionale and Bayern Munich all denying them this trophy since. "It is a different team," he said. "It is very difficult to continue in the same level Barcelona played three years ago."

Read more: There is just 'one club in Manchester' - Pellegrini
Barcelona blueprint faces key test
Navas on beating Barcelona
Fabregas thriving under Martino
Barcelona are still incredible, despite what Mourinho says
Pique out to prove doubters wrong
Manchester City v Barcelona match preview

The sentiment was a reasonable one. Gerard Pique volunteered the thought that other clubs "don't fear us as much because we didn't win the Champions League" and Barcelona are not the side they were in 2011, even though the scale of their drift from the levels they attained under Pep Guardiola has been overstated. There was a sense of dismay in Catalonia when the round of 16 draw was made and City's name came out.

Yet it was the Catalan principle of only playing one way which led Pellegrini to declare that he would not be cowed into a more submissive kind of football. He is demonstrating less pragmatism as City manager than at Villarreal, as Soriano and Begiristain ask him to do it their way and he willingly complies.

"You always must consider important things but the most important thing is to continue being the same team you see every week in the Premier League," he said. "To continue having the same style of play and the personality, but you cannot continue without thinking they have Messi and other important players. We are not just going to think about defending but what we can do with the ball. That is the most important thing."

United thought they could go down that road, too. They played Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick in central midfield against Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Andres Iniesta two years ago and everyone remembers the gulf in class which that Wembley night revealed.

The only sensitivities belonged to Yaya Touré, whose attacking instincts have led another marshal of the City midfield, Dietmar Hamann, to describe him as a "defensive liability." No smiles from Touré when the question of whether the City fans' "Yaya-Kolo" song is one he sings in the shower, and a more irritated response than might have been expected when his departure from Barcelona in 2009 – forced upon him by limited chances – was put to him. His prickliness was perhaps testament to having something to prove.

But he was an exception to the rule. It is 11 years – and yet a lifetime – since Barcelona were last received here, for the inaugural game in the then Eastlands stadium, which was one of the prime attractions which persuaded Abu Dhabi to buy the club. "I think the stadium will be the making of this club," said the then manager Kevin Keegan. "We're the luckiest team in the world to have a stadium like this. We've got to turn it to our advantage." A prophetic statement indeed.

Suggested Topics
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Voices
Clock off: France has had a 35‑hour working week since 1999
voicesThere's no truth to a law banning work emails after 6pm, but that didn’t stop media hysteria
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Sport
Mourinho lost his temper as well as the match
sportLiverpool handed title boost as Sunderland smash manager’s 77-game home league run
Life & Style
Sampling wine in Turin
food + drink...and abstaining may be worse than drinking too much, says scientist
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Arts & Entertainment
Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin has been working on the novels since the mid-Nineties
books
News
Easter a dangerous time for dogs
these are the new ones. Old ones are below them... news
News
Brand said he
people
Sport
Roger Federer celebrates his victory over Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo Masters
sport
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Arts & Entertainment
The monster rears its head as it roars into the sky
film
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit