Two weeks on from a humbling defeat at the Camp Nou, Pep Guardiola has said his Manchester City team needs to play a near-perfect game to hold off Barcelona at the Etihad on Tuesday. City went down 4-0 in Barcelona, making it five defeats in five matches against the Catalans, all played within the past three seasons.
For Guardiola, it was another ignominious return to the club where he spent the bulk of his year as a player and a manager, having also lost 3-0 with Bayern Munich two seasons ago. In his latest return, his new Manchester City side was well in the contest for the first half before goalkeeper Claudio Bravo was sent off and Lionel Messi went on to complete his hat-trick in an emphatic victory. And Guardiola accepts his team will have its work cut out to get both his and his club’s first win against the Spanish champions.
“We will try,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “I have never thought that we can’t win a football match and I never will. Even when we lost 4-0. It’s difficult and we know we need to play almost perfectly to win – and if not, we will congratulate them and move on.
“Maybe we are going to change the way we press, our build up, control. I would like to play at a good level for 90 minutes. Hopefully, our quality can make the difference tomorrow.”
For Manchester City, the match has plenty of immediate significance. Following the loss at Barcelona, as well as the draw at Celtic, Guardiola’s team finds itself in a real battle just to make it through to the Champions League’s knockout phase. The Premier League outfit currently sits just a single point above Germans Borussia Mönchengladbach in Group C.
"For [Barcelona] it’s not a final, for us it is like a final,” Guardiola conceded. “There are just three games left. We dropped points in Glasgow and we have to recover those points.”
A victory for Barcelona would guarantee the five-time European champion passage through to the round of 16. So far Luis Enrique’s side has been dominant in the Champions League, winning its first three matches and scoring 13 goals in the process.
Messi has scored six of those, part of a run of 11 goals in his last seven matches. And asked what differentiates the current Barcelona side under Enrique and the one led by Guardiola, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner suggested they were now more explosive going forward.
“In reality, the system of Barcelona is something that everyone knows,” he told The Sun. “I can say we are one of the few clubs that have it, but each boss has different things and applies them as he sees fit.
“We have not noticed massive changes but, yes, some – in that with Luis maybe now we are a bit more aggressive when we attack at speed, whilst with Pep we used counter-attacks less.”
Barcelona, which beat Granada 1-0 on Saturday to stay second in La Liga, has traveled to Manchester without several first-team regulars. Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Aleix Vidal are all ruled out through injury while Jeremy Mathieu is suspended after being sent off late on against City two weeks ago. As well as being without Bravo due to suspension, Manchester City has a major issue at right-back with both Pablo Zabaleta and Bacary Sagna out injured.
D: Fernando, Stones, Otamendi, Kolarov
Sterling, Gundogan, Silva, De Bruyne
G: Ter Stegen
D: Sergi Roberto, Mascherano, Umtiti, Digne
M: Rakitic, Busquets, Rafinha
Messi, Suárez, Neymar
Prediction: After a run of six matches without a victory, Manchester City got back to winning ways and gained a major confidence boost with a 4-0 win at West Brom on Saturday. Sergio Agüero scored twice in the fixture and looked in scintillating form, meaning it is hard to imagine the Argentine starting on the bench as he did at the Camp Nou. City can also take confidence that, despite the eventual heaviness of the defeat, it matched Barcelona for the first half of the contest. And with Barcelona’s injury concerns, Guardiola may be able to put an end to City’s losing streak against the Catalans.
Predicted Score: Manchester City 1-1 Barcelona