Barcelona Turn Up the Heat Ahead of Champions League Clash with Manchester City

Rik Sharma@@riksharma_Featured ColumnistFebruary 15, 2014

Barcelona is a partisan city.

But even in these streets, there has been a lingering worry over the forthcoming Champions League last-16 clash with Manchester City.

Supporters have been following Manuel Pellegrini's side’s results with interest, and their injury news even more closely.

At the same time, there has been concerns over the current state of the Barcelona team.

Few supporters are overly keen on manager Tata Martino.

Some still don’t believe that Lionel Messi is back to his best after injury.

It’s widely acknowledged that the Blaugrana defence needs reinforcing, shoring up at the least.

Many people had Manchester City down as firm favourites before this weekend—something which would have been unthinkable had these teams met at this time last year.

And with City beating Chelsea 2-0 at the Etihad, avenging their recent Premier League defeat and performing extremely well across the pitch, Barcelona could hear the swords being sharpened as they came out at the Nou Camp to face Rayo Vallecano.

But they delivered the perfect riposte to their critics with a flawless 6-0 victory.

With Carles Puyol at the heart of the defence they appeared more solid—although Rayo Vallecano did not offer too much in either attack or defence.

He came off for Javier Mascherano to ice his knee and rest his back and is likely to be selected for the big game next week.

Even better news for Barcelona was Messi continuing his return from injury with two more excellent goals.

He now has five in his past three, and that patch of one goal in nine games can be forgotten.

Messi’s goals, which take him up to 337 for Barcelona, broke records too—as well as passing Telmo Zarra to become the all-time leading scorer for one side, he moved ahead of Alfredo di Stefano and has drawn level with Raul on 228 La Liga strikes.

The Argentine was also substituted, given a rest ahead of Tuesday’s encounter.

The third part to fall into place for Barcelona was the return of Neymar. He finally appeared after several weeks out injured and scored a quite magnificent goal.

Neymar came on as a substitute and looked a little rusty at first, as well he might. But with a couple of minutes to go, he picked the ball up, drove forward and from a full 25 yards out smashed it into the top-left corner.

Perhaps more crucial than all of this, though, is Andres Iniesta’s return to form.

During the past few games he hasn’t been at his effervescent best, but against Rayo Vallecano he was sublime, totally running the game.

Playing weak opponents four days before a Champions League tie is usually viewed as favourable, when it comes to the luck of the fixture list, but it can be a double-edged sword.

On one hand, you can rest players, or take the opportunity to bring others back to match fitness—Neymar for example.

Your players won’t be especially tired, particularly if you control the game and keep the ball like Barcelona do.

But at the same time Manchester City, having played Premier League leaders Chelsea, will be immediately sharp.

Their players will be “in the zone.”

They needed to have their big-game mentalities set for that clash, and clearly they did, turning in a superb performance.

It will be easy to maintain that focus, channelling in the positives from the Chelsea game as they prepare to welcome Barcelona to Manchester.

It’s another advantage that their players will be resting at home, while Barca’s stars have to travel and stay in unfamiliar surroundings.

While this is the case with every away Champions League tie, playing on Saturday night and again on Tuesday is a quick turnaround.

And with these two teams so evenly poised, every edge is important.

Both teams will be watching recordings of the other’s matches between now and Tuesday, and neither will like what they find.


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