Manuel Pellegrini Taunts Barcelona Before Manchester City Champions League Clash

Tom SunderlandFeatured ColumnistDecember 17, 2013

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 24: Manuel Pellegrini, manager of Manchester City looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at Etihad Stadium on November 24, 2013 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Having spent close to a decade managing in La Liga, Manuel Pellegrini is about as much of a Spanish insider as Manchester City could have hoped to land when appointing their new manager this summer.

So, while an assessment of Barcelona is nothing new for the Chilean in advance of the pair's Champions League meeting, the way in which Pellegrini has made his latest assessment of the Catalan club will undoubtedly be translated as fighting talk.

Monday's Champions League draw revealed that City and La Blaugrana would be two of the sides making up arguably the headline fixture in the Round of 16.

On one hand are an emerging power hoping to further extend a European record only set this season; on the other are a long-standing staple of the tournament looking to assert their grip on the occasion as per usual.

Barca's last Champions League triumph will be three years ago in May
Barca's last Champions League triumph will be three years ago in MayDavid Ramos/Getty Images

After learning of who his side would be facing, Pellegrini said he was confident of advancing and, per the Telegraph's Mark Ogden, believes Barca are past their best:

I think it is a beautiful game with two very good teams. But Barcelona is not the team it was two years ago, so we will see how they arrive in February. I don’t know exactly what happened inside Barcelona, but they changed three managers in the last three years and maybe the performance of the players is not the same.

Maybe the players are older, but there are a lot of reasons why teams change their performance. They continue to be a very good team. Two years ago, however, they were more unbeatable than today. It’s not impossible, but difficult. Last year, (Lionel) Messi played against Bayern Munich and they lost that tie. But if you want to win something important, you must always beat important teams.

Top of La Liga and scorers of 16 goals in their group stage campaign this season, Barca certainly are "a very good team," as Pellegrini suggests.

But then, there have been shades of weakness in both domestic and European competition this season. Atletico Madrid's gradual breaking up of the Spanish duopoly between Barca and Real Madrid looks as determined as ever, Los Rojiblancos currently level on points and goals scored with Barca.

Martino: Shifting priorities at Barcelona
Martino: Shifting priorities at BarcelonaDavid Ramos/Getty Images

What's more, the reigning champions of Spain have been exposed in Europe, losing against Ajax with a team that it would be difficult to label "second string."

As Jan Aage Fjortoft suggests on Twitter, there's just as much reason for Barca to be afraid of City as there is vice versa:

As Pellegrini hints, the managerial merry-go-round at the Camp Nou these last few seasons has been an unfamiliar occurrence for the club, but a necessity given the health problems suffered by Tito Vilanova in the past, ultimately ending with Gerardo Martino's appointment.

Not as set with the tiki-taka way of things, "Tata" seems adamant to inject his own Argentinian take on matters at Barca, with this season an examination for whether it's for better or worse.

The Citizens appear confident they can take advantage of the fact their rivals now play a more direct style. Barcelona, although still capable of mesmerising brilliance, no longer appear the side that trounced near enough everything in sight back in 2011.

Since winning the Champions League three years ago Barca have had to settle for exiting at the semi-final stage in the last two tournaments, beaten by Chelsea and Bayern Munich in that order.

After spending time at the helms of Villarreal, Real Madrid and Malaga for the last nine years, Pellegrini has seen dozens of Barcelona line-ups come and go, so a trusted opinion on where their strength currently lies, he may just be.