Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City travel to Barcelona on Wednesday in what will surely be their most difficult game in the Champions League group stage this season.
Manchester City will be looking to avoid defeat at any cost if they want to keep their hopes of finishing top of Group C. If Guardiola wants his side to have a bigger chance of reaching the latter stages of the tournament this season, City have to win the group in order to face an easier opponent in the 1/8 finals and play the second leg at home.
Of course, Celtic and Borussia Monchengladbach are not out of the race for the top 2 positions in the group yet, but Barcelona and Manchester City are definitely heavy favorites to make it through to the knockout rounds, though the bookmakers at the biggest sites are putting Barcelona as the favourite to win the group.
Manchester City failed to beat Celtic last month and even though Guardiola’s men were away from home, it was still two points dropped rather than one gained, especially considering Barcelona’s vital win in Germany.
This won’t be the first time Guardiola has met his former side in the Champions League. Barcelona eliminated Guardiola’s Bayern Munich in the ½ finals of the tournament in the 2014/15 season despite losing the return leg 3-2.
Now Guardiola has to meet his former teammate Luis Enrique again and will be hoping to tactically outsmart the former AS Roma and Celta Vigo manager.
Guardiola has been slowly moving away from his notorious tiki-taka style that made Barcelona the most dominant club side in the history of the game during his tenure at Camp Nou between 2008 and 2012.
His style has become much more direct, though it’s still reliant on aggressive pressing deep into the opponent’s half of the pitch and is still a possession-based brand of football.
Barcelona have basically abandoned the tiki-taka as well. They’re also much more direct under Luis Enrique, but that’s perfectly natural considering Xavi’s departure and Iniesta’s somewhat reduced role in the team nowadays.
However, Luis Enrique’s men are always expected to dominate possession at their own stadium and their opponents are pretty much always on the back foot, relying on compact defensive organization and counter attacks.
Guardiola is likely to tweak his tactics for the game in order to not give Barcelona’s deadly attacking trio any space, but he’s got the players to do so. Aguero, Sterling, Nolito and Gundogan are all perfectly comfortable in a counter-attacking set-up and City’s chances are also likely to be boosted by the impending return of Kevin De Bruyne, who’s been their best player so far this season.
There are some good news for Luis Enrique as well. Lionel Messi and Jordi Alba are both likely to be available for selection for the crucial game against City after missing the last few games with injuries.
Messi is expected to return against Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday after missing the last 20 days due to a muscle injury and should be in top condition for the Champions League game next week.
The game at Camp Nou is very important for both sides, but even if Barcelona lose, they’d still be favorites to top the group as they’d only be one point behind City.
This game will be a major test for the new-look Manchester City as facing Barcelona at Camp Nou is probably the most difficult and complicated fixture in world football.