Why Pressure-Free Manchester City Can Cause Champions League Upset at Barcelona

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Why Pressure-Free Manchester City Can Cause Champions League Upset at Barcelona
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Two goals down from the first leg and with 90 minutes in the Nou Camp ahead of them, Manchester City's Champions League involvement hangs by a thread.

There are few observers of European football who feel City can progress. Such is the quality of this Barcelona side when in possession of a lead, with the Blues travelling to Spain in hope rather than expectation.

It almost feels like a pressure-free situation, similar to the one City faced in Munich earlier in the campaign. It's a situation which may in fact work in their favour.

The only way City stand any chance of beating Barcelona is to express themselves and play with freedom going forward. With the pressure largely off given the first-leg result, they can now do that. Being cagey will get them nowhere—trying to unsettle the Barcelona defence is their only option.

An early goal is key and would change the complexion of the game. With Barcelona's recent results, they may well get edgy if that were the case.

Jon Super/Associated Press

City rested a number of key players for their defeat to Wigan at the weekend, a move which backfired massively and saw them exit a competition they had every chance of winning.

It was a baffling move from Manuel Pellegrini. He appeared to underestimate Wigan despite their good form and the result in last season's FA Cup final, where the Latics, then under the guidance of Roberto Martinez, upset City to win the trophy.

However, it does mean the likes of Vincent Kompany, Fernandinho and David Silva should be well-rested for the game with Barcelona. City have to play a high-intensity game to ensure Barcelona's players can't settle in possession, and having their best players rested will help in that regard.

Barcelona also lost at the weekend, 1-0 away to Valladolid, and they suffered a 3-1 defeat to Real Sociedad in the game immediately following the first leg. It seems there is a vulnerability previously absent that City need to capitalise on if they are to stand any chance.

Sergio Aguero's return to fitness is also key. Barcelona's high line will be dreading his pace in behind, and that uncertainty will help City push them back.

Clint Hughes/Associated Press

Twice during his time at Atletico Madrid, Aguero scored two goals in impressive wins: a 4-2 win in 2008 and a 4-3 win 2009. In total, he managed six goals against them during his time in La Liga. They do not like facing El Kun, and the Barcelona back line will have one eye on the Argentinian throughout the match.

There's no doubt City face a tough task and are unlikely to progress, but there are reasons to be mildly optimistic.

Their 3-2 win over Bayern Munich in the group stage earlier this season is evidence that anything can happen in football. City went there with a second-string side and beat the best club side in the world; a side who have since gone on a 16-game winning streak in the Bundesliga.

Sitting back and being conservative won't work. City must attack, and with little expectation and pressure, the shackles should come off. For the neutral, an early goal is an absolute must, and if that happens, the tie is back on.

 

Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here: @RobPollard_.

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