There is no question that the tie of the Champions League round of 16 is that between Manchester City and Barcelona.
Who will advance?
Many fans and pundits are still bemoaning the fact that City did not go full out in search of a fourth goal against Bayern Munich last week, as that would have put them at the top of their group. The prospect of facing Barcelona will increase their frustrations.
That said, there’s no way anyone could have known that the Catalan giants were next in line, and had City gone all out for a fourth goal in Munich, there’s no guarantee they would have gotten it anyway.
In any case, I firmly believe that Barcelona coach Tata Martino has just as much to be worried about as Manuel Pellegrini.
I’ve said from the start that I believe City will win the Premier League this season, and win it by a handsome margin. Despite the occasional stuttering performance, I have seen nothing to dissuade me from that opinion.
What they need to place the final piece in the jigsaw is a centre-back to help to push their defensive line higher. When that happens, they should prove unstoppable, at least domestically.
Barcelona don’t do frightened, so City won’t scare them. But considering Manchester City's style of football, this is, without doubt, the worst possible draw the Catalans could have gotten.
The weaknesses of the Barcelona side this season have been clear to see. What's more, my contacts tell me there have been discussions between the players and Martino on matters of style—as everyone tries to find a compromise between the possession game much loved by the old Barcelona and the newer, more direct approach.
They have only just managed to get it right in the last week, but in City they will come up against the type of side they most hate to play—one that defends deep before killing you with lethal counter-attacks packed with pace and quality, as effective as anything you’ll find anywhere in the world.
City's physicality is another asset, especially in set pieces. Barcelona have conceded four goals from corners, and Carles Puyol, unable to shake off his knee injury, may not help much and is thinking of retiring this season.
Mind you, Barcelona aren’t exactly shrinking violets in front of goal either, and in what is undoubtedly the tie of the round, the key could well be who scores the most away goals. If Barcelona score at the Etihad in the first leg, then it could prove to be an uphill struggle for Pellegrini’s men at the Camp Nou.
Last 16 Predictions
Which English side will go furthest?
Elsewhere, Bayern Munich should have too much for Arsenal, especially with the second leg being played in Germany. Arsenal’s recent 6-3 failure at the Etihad would suggest that maybe they are not quite at the top level at present.
Real Madrid should have little problem seeing off the challenge of Schalke, while Paris Saint-Germain although maybe not quite the finished article, are better than Bayer Leverkusen.
Jose Mourinho gets the tie he wanted, with his Chelsea side facing Turkey’s Galatasaray in a match that will see Didier Drogba return to Stamford Bridge. Likewise, Manchester United probably would have picked Olympiakos if given a choice of opponent.
In the other two games, Borussia Dortmund have stuttered recently in their league campaign but will probably have enough in the locker room to see off Zenit St. Petersburg, while many people’s outside tip, Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid, should be too good for AC Milan over two legs.