Breaking Down Manchester City's Champions League Opponents Barcelona

Phil Keidel@@PhilKeidelContributor IIDecember 18, 2013

Messi, Neymar and company will give Manchester City all they can handle.
Messi, Neymar and company will give Manchester City all they can handle.David Ramos/Getty Images

Manchester City professed to want Champions League pressure and competition at Europe's highest level. Manuel Pellegrini was hired to manage City primarily to guide City to success in this tournament.

If City really wanted a challenge, they got it in drawing four-time Champions League victors Barcelona in the round of 16. As you probably recall, Barcelona won the Champions League in 2009 and again in 2011.

Other teams have won more Champions League titles. Reigning kings Bayern Munich have won it five times. Barcelona's nemesis Real Madrid have won it more than any other team (nine times).

On recent and present form, though, Barcelona are quite possibly the hardest possible start for Manchester City in their first ever foray into elimination play in the Champions League.

The Catalan side will not haul their past silver onto the pitch with them against City.

Every time Barcelona line up, however, they bring not only a significant history of winning at this level, but also ongoing excellence in their own league with the world's best player four years running in Lionel Messi.

Scarier still are the cast that support Messi. Neymar, Xavi and Andres Iniesta are all football greats playing at or near their career standards of excellent play for today's Barcelona.

Messi has been out of action since November 10, per John Drayton of the Daily Mail. Yet Barcelona remain atop La Liga (on goal difference over Atletico Madrid) through 16 league matches.

It will be riveting theater to see how Pellegrini copes with the daunting task of facing Barca.
It will be riveting theater to see how Pellegrini copes with the daunting task of facing Barca.Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Since Barcelona have won four of the past five La Liga crowns, including last year's, it is difficult to project another side unseating them assuming Messi regains full health in the next month or so.

And facing Barcelona in the Champions League promises to be somewhere between exciting and terrifying for City manager Manuel Pellegrini's side.

Not that he is about to let anyone see him sweat.

"Barcelona is not the team it was two years ago," Pellegrini recently said according to Ian Ladyman of the Daily Mail. "They changed three managers in the last three years, maybe the performance of the players is not the same...two years ago they were more unbeatable than today," Pellegrini continued.

Maybe so, but the touts say otherwise. Ladbrokes has Barcelona (9/2) as the co-second favorite with Real Madrid to win the Champions League behind defenders Bayern Munich (13/5). Manchester City are tied with their rivals, Manchester United, as the eighth choice at 16/1.

In retrospect, Manchester City might have preferred scoring one more group stage goal against Bayern Munich after all.

It is certainly noble to accept the challenge that Barcelona will present head-on.

But City would be far more likely to survive the round of 16 if it were Olympiakos or Schalke coming to the Etihad in February.