It has become an unwelcoming sight to Manchester City fans, but yet again their team is in a difficult spot in the Champions League. On Tuesday night, Barcelona rolled into the Etihad and took away all 3 points in a knockout round for the second year in a row. Last year, Barcelona followed up a 2-0 away victory with a 2-1 home win to seal progression to the quarterfinals, and while many think the Citizens are out of it, I actually think they have the edge in the second leg.
The beginning of City’s silver lining comes in the form of Yaya Toure. On Tuesday, the Ivorian served the last of his 3-match UCL ban for a red card against CKSA Moskow in the group stages and he will be available for the second leg against Barca. Funny enough, Toure used to play for Barcelona and was the defensive lynchpin that added grit and determination to their back line. His replacement is the incredible over-rated Sergio Busquets (I honestly hate Busquets and think he is an incredibly poor replacement for Toure, who could actually find the back of the net when asked). Now that Toure is in an attacking role for City, he will absolutely boss the Spanish side’s soft core and will be able to open up space for the likes of Aguero and Silva to operate.
Last season, City went into the same Round of 16 second leg down 2-0. This year, they at least have a goal to boast and on top of that looked inspired at the back, at least by Joe Hart. The English stopper’s heroics against Barcelona saved the Citizens throughout the match and when it mattered most, in injury time against Lionel Messi from the spot. But sometimes a team has a bit of magic about them and look almost “destined” to progress, and for some reason that team feels like Manchester City. They were without their engine Yaya Toure and still weathered a pretty brutal Barca storm- in the Champions League, every single goal matters.
In the end, this really all boils down to “can Barcelona do it.” And the answer really isn’t clear, but I don’t think they can. Despite having a host of chances in an away match and being up a man for the last 20 minutes due to Clichy’s red card, Barca didn’t look mentally prepared to really put the game away. It felt odd that such a talent-laden attacking squad would waste time on an 87th minute corner kick against 10-men, and I found myself wondering why they weren’t going after as many goals as possible. They just didn’t look hungry. And then Pablo Zabaleta decided to needlessly hack down Messi in the 93rd minute to send his fellow Argentine to the spot. And Messi missed. He didn’t look ready to take the penalty, he didn’t expect to have a chance that late in the game because Barcelona had checked out. Don’t be surprised to see Manchester City score 2 or 3 and take home the tie in Catalonia.