Midfield battle key to Etihad clash

  • By: Tom McDermott
  • Last Updated: February 18 2014, 19:45 GMT

Tom McDermott assesses the key battles, major talking points and the betting markets ahead of Manchester City v Barcelona.

Messi: A lot will rest on his shoulders tonight
Messi: A lot will rest on his shoulders tonight

Key battles

Fernandinho returns to the Manchester City squad and if he is declared fit enough to start against Barcelona don't bet against Manuel Pellegrini's side winning the game.

You do get the feeling ahead of this one that whoever can control the midfield third will probably end up coming out on top.

So, forget trying to control Lionel Messi, because you can't. What you can do though is prevent the ball getting to the diminutive Argentinian in key areas of the pitch and with the likes of Yaya Toure and Fernandinho about City fans have good reason to feel confident.

Fernandinho's return for the last-16 tie should provide the often vulnerable City defence with some protection and allow former Barcelona player Toure to bomb forward and help the forwards.

The Brazilian has been superb for City in his debut season and you only have to look at the recent league game against Chelsea to see how badly he has been missed.

Andres Iniesta, Pedro and Alexis Sanchez are exceptional at ghosting in between the back four and midfield and the former Shakhtar Donetsk player will have to be at his energetic best in order to prevent them breaking through.

In a game of such importance it is also easy to forget about the goalkeepers. Joe Hart and departing Barca 'keeper Victor Valdes have received some criticism in recent years but both will have to be at the top of their game because few will be backing the 0-0 draw.


Back Messi to score first and Barca to win 2-1 at 33/1


Are City a big club?

Pellegrini claims that City are now bigger than Manchester United and says that knocking Barcelona out of the Champions League could be a season defining moment as they chase four trophies.

The game is probably the biggest since Sheikh Mansour took over the running of the club in September 2009 and the Spanish giants visit comes almost 15 years to the day since City faced Macclesfield Town in a League One fixture at Maine Road.

Instrumental midfielder David Silva thinks that victory against the Catalans would be a sign of City's 'coming of age' on the European circuit and prove that they are capable of mixing it with the best not only in the Premier League but in Europe as well.

In terms of size and success, City still have some way to go if they are to get anywhere near local rivals United.

But, whilst David Moyes' side struggle to even qualify for next season's Champions League, victory tonight will provide City's neighbours with another reminder that they are looking to create more history of their own.


Back Man City to win the Champions League at 10/1 with Sky Bet


Mourinho view

According to Jose Mourinho, City are about to face the 'worst Barcelona team for years'. If you look at many of the statistics it is hard to argue with the Portuguese but the comment was probably made in order to try and unsettle the home side and Barcelona in some way.

Many people in the game may argue that Mourinho now regards City as a major force on all fronts and that they should take his most recent remark as a compliment.

Remember though: We are approaching the stage of the season which was once described as 'squeaky bum time', so sit back and strap yourself in for many more 'mind games' between now and May.


Pedro to score first is 9/1 with Sky Bet


Barcelona record

In competitive action Barcelona's record isn't the best in England - they have not won since 2007.

From 28 visits to clubs in England, Barca have won just six matches, although that statistic does not include their 3-1 win over Manchester United at Wembley in the final in 2011.

It would be foolish to regard them as underdogs though especially with the likes of Messi, Cesc Fabregas, Pedro, Sanchez, Xavi and Neymar making the trip over to Manchester.

But, as Bayern Munich and Chelsea have shown against them in recent years they do concede goals far more easily than when they strolled to the title in 2009.


Back Barcelona to win 3-1 at 18/1 with Sky Bet


Betting

Chris Hammer has previewed tonight's Champions League game and expects Manchester City to beat Barcelona and feels they have the quality to challenge for the quadruple.

Our friends at Sky Bet are also gearing up for this cracker. They make Barcelona favourites at 13/10 while Manchester City are 2/1 to take a lead to the Nou Camp.

They also have a number of interesting Price Boosts. Surely the pick is Yaya Toure to open the scoring tonight against his former club at 10/1. If you think Barca will edge it, why not back Messi to score first and his side to win 2-1 at 33/1.

Verdict

City to win and take a 2-1 lead to Spain.


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