Manuel Pellegrini has declared that there is now "just one club in Manchester" as his team head into a crucial Champions League knockout tie with Barcelona, which he insisted will be a defining moment in his Manchester City squad's development.
The manager was asked if Tuesday night's result would change the position in which Manchester United have traditionally been the biggest team in the city. "If we only consider this season, there is just one club in Manchester and it's ours," Pellegrini responded. "But you cannot forget what United has done in the previous years."
Though United remain comfortably ahead as a global commercial force, a win over two legs for City would further illuminate the gulf between themselves and the Old Trafford club, who are struggling 11 points adrift of the Champions League qualification places in the Premier League.
Pellegrini also revealed that Fernandinho had trained without any aggravation to the thigh injury which has kept him out for three weeks.
His Barcelona counterpart, Tata Martino, admitted that his club's fans would consider Barcelona a failure if they lose the round of 16 tie. "In the last six seasons we've made it to the semi-finals, so it will be difficult to understand if we don't go through," he said.
Martino, who said he would decide today whether Neymar will start his first game in two months, made it clear that a possession game was his only way of counteracting City's attacking force, which has amassed 117 goals in all competitions this season.
"Obviously, [our plan] is to take the ball away from them," Martino said to the question of how he would react if City dominated possession. Pressed on how he would respond if that plan failed, he replied: "Well, if we don't have the ball it's just pointless to come to the game."
Manchester City v Barcelona: The 10 most dangerous Barcelona players
Manchester City v Barcelona: The 10 most dangerous Barcelona players
1/10 Lionel Messi (Position: Centre Forward)
The Argentine aims to showcase his renewed supremacy after an unprecedented injury lay-off and accusations of apathy by Barcelona's former assistant manager Angel Cappa. His current tally of 24 goals in 27 games is underwhelming by his standards but by no means indicative of a lack of passion. He has scored six goals in his last six games against English opposition, has netted six in his last three in the Champions League, and notched six in his last seven appearances. Moreover, he just became the third highest goal-scorer in the history of La Liga at 26-years-old. He is a frightening player.
Games: 27 Goals: 24 Assists: 11 (season stats across all competitions)
2/10 Neymar (Position: Forward Left)
The 22-year-old sensation isn’t expected to start against the Sky Blues, as he is still recovering from a lengthy absence with an ankle injury. He could still feature however, managing to play in 29 minutes of Barcelona’s 6-0 thumping against Rayo Vallecano on Saturday. The slippery forward is yet to replicate the magnificent goal-scoring form he exhibited in Brazil, scoring 42 goals in 47 appearances in 2012, but remains a dangerous prospect for any defence. He hasn’t scored against English opposition, but the last time he netted on English soil was against Scotland at the Emirates Stadium in 2011, firing in a brace.
Games: 34 Goals: 15 Assists: 17
3/10 Alexis Sanchez (Position: Forward Right)
The Chilean forward has been a revelation for the Catalan outfit this season. After an abject two seasons with the club, with many anticipating his exit, he has somehow managed to overshadow fellow teammates Neymar and, to a certain extent, Messi. The 26-year-old has already surpassed his goal tally from last season, scoring 21 goals in all competitions – including a brace against England in November – and is currently Barcelona’s top scorer in La Liga with 15 goals.
Games: 38 Goals: 21 Assists: 14
4/10 Pedro (Position: Forward Left)
The last time the Spaniard faced a team from Manchester, he scored the opening goal and paved the way towards a comfortable Champions League Final victory. The prospect of facing this cash-imbued Manchester City side is perhaps a little more daunting but, now at 26-years-old, the marauding forward will want to claim a third Champions League medal by progressing past another strong Mancunian team. He will threaten with his pace and guile, but Manuel Pellegrini’s men will need to be wary of his diagonal runs – if he starts.
Games: 39 Goals: 17 Assists: 9
5/10 Cesc Fabregas (Position: Centre Midfield)
Cesc Fabregas has played superlative football under Gerardo Martino this season. The newly appointed manager has elicited a 'more intelligent' style, claims Fabregas, which has enabled the Spanish playmaker to manifest the excellent form he showcased at Arsenal. The 26-year-old may play further forward against Pellegrini’s side as the former Gunner, who scored two goals against Manchester City during his eight year tenure in North London, will have his eye on inducing an upset at the Etihad.
Games: 37 Goals: 13 Assists: 20
6/10 Andres Iniesta (Position: Centre Midfield)
Speculation was rife at the nascent stages of this campaign, seeing the midfield maestro linked to City’s rivals Manchester United. The Spaniard committed to a three-year-contract shortly thereafter, quashing any rumours of a potential shock departure. Iniesta has won everything in football, and is bitterly remembered by Chelsea fans for his last minute winner in a Champions League Semi-final against the Blues in 2009. The 29-year-old is still an important figure under Martino, as he flaunted his wizardry in Barcelona’s 6-0 thumping of Rayo Vallecano on Saturday.
Games: 36 Goals: 1 Assists: 6
7/10 Xavi (Position: Centre Midfield)
The playmaking veteran has experienced fluctuations under the wing of Gerardo Martino. Whilst he has looked somewhat laboured this season, he has produced moments of magic. There are questions surrounding whether the 34-year-old will start at the Etihad, as he did not feature in Barcelona’s recent opposition trouncing in La Liga. Nevertheless, Xavi will provide an added calm and ball retention capacity for the Catalans. He scored an important goal against Arsenal that saw Barcelona progress through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League in 2011, and will intend on replicating that feat against the Sky Blues.
Games: 31 Goals: 3 Assists: 5
8/10 Dani Alves (Position: Right Back)
Renowned as one of the more attacking full-backs in modern football, Dani Alves has been paramount to Barcelona's recent history. Despite lacking somewhat defensively, the 30-year-old has compensated for his frailties at the back through his attacking work rate. The Brazilian hasn't featured as much under Martino but will still provide pace and perpetual assaults down the flanks, if chosen to represent the Spanish side. He featured in Barcelona's Champions League final against Manchester United in 2011 and delivered a stellar performance to claim his second medal in the European competition.
Games: 29 Goals: 2 Assists: 2
9/10 Sergio Busquets (Position: Centre Midfield)
The Spaniard is regarded as one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe. At 25-year-old, he spends the majority of his time sitting in front of the central defence and occasionally filling in gaps left by the marauding full-backs if needed. Busquets will be used to cancel out prospective City attacks – especially on the counter-attack – through relentless pressure towards opposition forwards. It is worth noting that he is prone to theatrics on occasion, so the Sky Blues have to be wary of reacting to Sergio, as he might react in a way which induces a costly booking.
Games: 32 Goals: 3 Assists: 1
10/10 Jordi Alba (Position: Left Back)
The 24-year-old has struggled to demonstrate his true capacity this season, after a three month injury lay-off at the beginning of the campaign. Having said that, the Spaniard will be forced to recover his form against Manchester City – assuming he is not replaced by makeshift utility Brazilian, Adriano. The Spanish full-back is often confused for a winger, as he is constantly ploughing forward and providing width for the Catalan outfit. He could be a dangerous outlet for Barcelona if given the opportunity to move forward.
Games: 17 Goals: 0 Assists: 1
In a game between two sides whose styles and philosophies mirror each other, Martino said "the team with less possession of the ball will suffer most", though he dismissed the idea that City opponents were "a mini-Barcelona or a mini any team". He declared City to be "one of the greatest teams in the world".
City midfielder Yaya Touré dismissed claims that his apparent lack of defensive caution made him a liability as "stupid", insisting that he did not listen to such talk. Touré's free role left City exposed against Chelsea in their 1-0 Premier League defeat two weeks ago and more discipline will be needed against Barcelona.
"They are not so important people," Touré said of his critics, of whom Dietmar Hamann was one of the most forceful, declaring on the BBC's Match of the Day that the Ivorian was a "defensive liability".
Touré added: "We have a lot of respect for the older players but sometimes they are wrong. Sometimes they have to give answers to the people. People love football and always want to hear something. Sometimes we're disappointed when we hear some stupid things.
"For me the most important thing is we have to move on. I've been playing for a long time. I just want to focus on the next game because always when we have lost we are the worst team, and I'm the worst player especially, and when we've won I'm the best in the team."
Touré was equally prickly when asked whether his departure from Barcelona in 2010 for a club who were unproven had been a risky one. "I went to City to win something," he said. "If people are not happy with that it's not my problem."
The City manager said his club would play the same ambitious way as always and, though he did not dismiss the notion of playing with one striker to allow more personnel to pack midfield and stunt the Spanish side's creativity, it was clear that he, too, views possession as the key to winning in the Etihad Stadium.
"When you play against Barcelona 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.
"We are not just going to think about defending but what we can do with the ball. Possession is going to be very important because the most important thing is to see which part of the pitch we are fighting for possession."Reuse content