Manchester City v Barcelona: City are the 'only club in Manchester', says Manuel Pellegrini in put down of United's season
Though United remain comfortably ahead as a global commercial force, a win over two legs against the Catalans would further illuminate the gulf between City and their Old Trafford rivals
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."
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."
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