Manchester City vying to state intent as Barca loom
Emirati owner Sheikh Al Mansour did not invest the staggering amount he has just for one Premier League title win and an FA Cup triumph at Wembley. No, he funded expensive transfer, built state of the art training facilities and sacked Roberto Mancini for Manuel Pellegrini all for one determined intention. To become, and be known, as the world's best club side. Darting past the vast stumbling block which is FC Barcelona will go a long way to ensuring City are regarded in the same light as Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, and the Catalan opponents they face on Tuesday night.
Spanish giants Barcelona have won three of the last eight editions of club football's elite competition, and to knock Gerardo Martino's side would send shockwaves around the football world signalling Manchester City's emergence as a European force, something the Manchester club were not considered after their failure to progress past the group stages on their last two occasions. It was that problem which saw Manuel Pellegrini, in particular, replace title-winning boss Roberto Mancini.
Pellegrini, the former manager of Real Madrid, was seconds away from guiding his former side Malaga to the Champions League semi-finals last season to face bygone club Madrid, but a late, and probably off-side, Felipe Santana goal completed a sensational comeback as Borussia Dortmund went on to charter an all-German Wembley final. It is the Chilean's impressive European record which saw him picked ahead of several appealing candidates for the vacancy, and he has vindicated Mansour's faith in him so far as City attempt to announce their arrival on the biggest stage of all.
When the draw for the group phase was made on the 29th of August, and City were part of a group which consisted of holding champions Bayern, CSKA Mosckow and Czech club Viktoria Plzen, Pellegrini must have revelled in his luck. The 60 year-old has survived a "group of death" scenario and had been drawn into a straight-forward Group D, a stark contrast to the "champions group" that Mancini saw his side become part of, a group composed of four league champions (Real Madrid, Ajax, Dortmund and City) in 2011.
As a consequence, Pellegrini oversaw five victories over a viable six, with the masterclass Bayern win at the Etihad their only lapse. However, Manchester City could have avoided a tie with Barcelona. As confusion reigned in the City camp as City led 3-2 at the Allianz Arena in the final group match, the former Malaga man and his staff were not aware that the Etihad outfit were shorn of only goal to claim topspot, with the Chilean stating afterwards that he would have introduced substitute Sergio Aguero if he had known. A comical error which come to cost City dear should Barca come up trumps in this eagerly-awaited two-legged tie.
The strenuous task which awaits Pellegrini's men must not be under-mined. Barca will walk out onto the pristine Etihad turf in sanguine mood, having ruthlessly dispatched Rayo Vallecano 6-0 in Spain's La Liga to move top and level on points with their adept Madrid rivals, Atletico and Real. In a way, the Blaugrana have regained their essence, and now seem a team to fear. With Lionel Messi striking form once again following an injury lay-off which saw the Argentinian miss out on January's Ballon D'or, and Neymar impressing in his debut season at the Nou Camp, the duo are an understandable cause for concern when they grace the Etihad turf.
However, there is reason for City fans to be optimistic ahead of the clash, with Pellegrini confirming imperative midfielder Fernandinho is on the squad list after recovering from injury. The Brazilian's importance to the side was displayed for all to see after he missed out City's vital league game against Chelsea a fortnight ago to lethal effect as Jose Mourinho's side exploited Martin Demichelis's weakness and Yaya Toure's propensity to gallop forward and leave his Argentinian partner exposed. It will have to be a much more disciplined performance, like the one we saw on Sunday in the FA Cup, from the Ivorian against his former team if City are to fight Barca's unflinching tendency to keep possession.
Beat the Blaugrana, and it is a sign of power as Manchester City attempt to emerge as a true European force. The two-legs are incredibly important for Man City as club. It is a test of how much Mansour's lofty investment has achieved. In short, it is huge.
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