Manchester City vs Barcelona: One year on, City feel much fresher for the Champions League task of facing Barcelona

The sides meet at the Etihad on Tuesday night

Fast, fluent and, as Manuel Pellegrini emphasised, fresh, Manchester City delivered a performance on Saturday of maximum self-assurance, one that took a two-point bite out of Chelsea’s lead at the top of the Premier League, one that should make even Barcelona brood as to how they address tomorrow night’s Champions League last 16 first leg at Eastlands.

There is questionable relevance in drubbing an anonymous Newcastle United 5-0 three days before facing Lionel Messi, Neymar and the rest; but Pellegrini looked back to last February’s meeting in Manchester with Barcelona and saw a different significance.

“What I think it is important for our team is that we are not arriving at these games having played as many games as last season,” Pellegrini said. “We had played 18 games in December and in January [last season] and were really tired by the time we met Barcelona. This time we are arriving at the game not having so many games as last season and that could be important.”

There is a lot of talk about small details in sport but this is a big one. In the two months from Boxing Day until this Tuesday, City will have played 12 games; when City met Barcelona last season, it was their 15th game in 54 days.

It is the difference between playing every five days to roughly every 3½ days. Factor in travel and adrenalin and, one year on, City’s energy reserves – physical and emotional – should be greater.

Given’s Barcelona’s famed carousel of passing, being “really tired” before a ball is kicked is a major hindrance. Having a man sent off – Martin Demichelis in Manchester and Pablo Zabaleta in Catalonia – does not help. Demichelis went with the score 0-0 in the first leg; City lost 4-1 on aggregate. Messi scored from the penalty awarded against Demichelis and Pellegrini said: “At that moment I think it was a very close game but that sending-off and penalty decided the game.”

 

Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez all played 90 minutes of Barcelona’s shock 1-0 home defeat to Pellegrini’s former club Malaga on Saturday. It was Barça’s 13th game since January. This will be Suarez’s first return to England since leaving Liverpool.

Questioned on the fearsome threesome, Vincent Kompany replied: “Fear? We don’t fear them. You don’t go in at this level fearing strikers. We want to play against them. It’s the fourth time in a year now. There’s nothing new to worry us.” And as Kompany added: “5-0 today – if we are not well prepared now, then we never will be.”

Yaya Touré’s suspension is another big detail. But it means Touré will be fresh for next Sunday at Anfield and for a league run-in that just got tighter.

City needed this. After rescuing a point in the last minute against Hull in the previous home game, City had to show they can still worry Chelsea in the season’s last three months. They were aided in this by Newcastle’s nowhere men.

Yaya-Toure-2.jpg
Yaya Toure is shown a red card in the 2-1 defeat to CSKA Moscow

 

Directly in front of 2,000 fans who made a 300-mile round trip to pay £44 a ticket, Newcastle gave away a penalty after 30 seconds. Sergio Aguero converted and from then it was a question of how many. Ten minutes later Edin Dzeko – revitalised perhaps by Wilfried Bony’s signing – found Samir Nasri to make it 2-0 and Dzeko then spanked in a spectacular third on 21 minutes. It was Dzeko’s first goal since September.

David Silva added two more in quick succession after the interval – each a demonstration of his bewitching left foot – and when Bony emerged from the bench to make his debut he had a chance to make it 6-0. Tim Krul saved.

Krul was one of those nominated by Newcastle’s manager, John Carver, as determined not to let the season fizzle out. It’s a bit late for that. The club seems determined to drain all enthusiasm from its support and, while attendances at St James’ Park remain high, part of that is because thousands have paid in advance. Like the players here, like the club itself, they are going through the motions. Newcastle used to play Barcelona, you know.

Comments