Champions League 2014: Jose Mourinho Riskily Taunts 'Worst Barcelona in Years'

Ben BlackmoreFeatured ColumnistFebruary 18, 2014

Barcelona's Lionel Messi, centre, trains with teammates at Manchester City's Etihad Stadium, Manchester, England, Monday Feb. 17, 2014. Barcelona will play Manchester City on Tuesday in a Champions League first knock out round soccer match. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Jon Super/Associated Press

Jose Mourinho has attempted to rile two of Chelsea’s potential Champions League competitors, by claiming Manchester City will be facing “the worst Barcelona of many, many years.”

Mourinho’s comments, said ahead of Tuesday’s round of 16 first leg between City and Barca, not only act as a major insult to Gerardo Martino’s Catalan giants, they also aim to take some of the gloss off a potential victory for Manuel Pellegrini’s City.

Jon Super/Associated Press

Quoted by ITV, as reported by the Mirror’s John Cross, Mourinho said:

Of course, by history, Barcelona is the favourite, but this Barcelona, this season, is showing that it is not the same in previous years.

Of course they have (Lionel) Messi, he is special, and they have more than him. But I think this is the worst Barcelona of many, many years—so City have a chance.

The reaction of Barcelona to Mourinho’s comments will be fascinating. A club of undoubted class—a word rarely associated with the Portuguese manager—Barcelona will do their talking on the pitch. At the Etihad, they will either prove the Chelsea boss right, or deliver a rousing response.

Certainly Gerard Pique appears ready to ensure it is the latter, per Rob Harris of the Associated Press:

The 2013-14 campaign has been an uneasy one for Martino and his team. Barcelona have already lost two league games this term, equalling their tally of last season, and they were recently stunned at home by struggling Valencia.

Having won the title by 15 points last season, they are currently locked on 60 points with both Madrid clubs, knowing they are far from certain to win any trophy this year.

La Liga standings
TeamGames PlayedGoal DifferencePoints
Real Madrid194460
Atletico Madrid194360

Off the field, they have had to deal with an unhappy Lionel Messi, who felt the need to speak out in public against director Javier Faus over claims he was demanding a better contract, per the Telegraph's John Percy.

Neymar’s controversial transfer from Santos is also under investigation, leading to the exit of president Sandro Rosell in further disruptions to the overall harmony of the club.

However, there is also plenty to be positive about for Martino as he takes his team to Manchester.

Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

Barca top La Liga and are on course to post a better defensive record than they managed during the 2012-13 campaign. They have conceded only 17 goals in 24 league outings so far, per ESPN FC, whereas they shipped over double that amount across 38 games last term.

Martino's men remain on course for a treble success, having booked a Copa del Rey final with Real Madrid in addition to their looming European clash with City.

Their recent outing against Rayo Vallecano saw Messi and Neymar share the same pitch for the first time since Jan. 11, and both men produced scintillating strikes to suggest they have returned from injury to instantly find form.

Indeed, Barca’s treatment room has rarely been so empty. Defenders Dani Alves, Carles Puyol and Jordi Alba have all spent spells on the sidelines this season, yet all are fit to face City.

Martino can also choose to combine Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Messi and Neymar in the same side if he so chooses, although the Brazilian wunderkind will almost certainly start from the bench.

Messi, despite missing two months of the campaign, has 19 league and Champions League goals—per Soccerbase, and he should be well rested after what was an enforced winter break for the Argentinian.

In a World Cup year that provides Messi with arguably his best chance of lifting the trophy during the prime years of his career, and offers Neymar the opportunity to lead Brazil in his home country, Barca have two players desperate to hit top gear ahead of the summer.

Mourinho may be right that certain parts of the squad—like Puyol, Alves and Xavi— are not what they once were, but there are signs that Barcelona are about to click at the right time in the season.