1. Can Man City’s midfield cope?
MANCHESTER CITY MANAGER Manuel Pellegrini has included Fernandinho in his match-day squad but it remains to be seen whether the Brazilian, missing from the last three games with a thigh injury, will be fully fit to face Barcelona tonight (7.45pm).
While City have undoubtedly missed his services, starting a player short on match practice could be a danger especially when you consider the calibre of player he will be tasked with stopping.
If he isn’t deemed ready, Javi Garcia performed excellently when called upon for Saturday’s FA Cup win over Chelsea and appears to be a much sounder option than the error-prone Martin Demichelis in the holding position.
Former Barca player Yaya Toure was often restricted to the ‘water carrier’ role during his three years at the club but is a much more influential player going forward for City and his input will be crucial.
The immensely accomplished Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Cesc Fabregas made up a three-man midfield in Barcelona’s 6-0 win over Rayo Vallecano over the weekend but Xavi should return to make up a formidable core after being given a rest.
2. A tale of two Argentine strikers
Barcelona seem to have rediscovered their form just in time for the return of the Champions League. After one win in four league games, they have bounced in their last two outings — a 4-1 win over Sevilla last weekend and the 6-0 drubbing of Rayo Vallecano the other day.
Unsurprisingly, Lionel Messi has been at the heart of the resurgence with 10 goals in the last 11 matches since returning from injury in January to bring him level with Real Madrid legend Raul on 228 La Liga goals.
Messi’s compatriot and City top scorer Sergio Aguero hasn’t recovered in time to face his old friend, which is without doubt a loss for the home side and gives Pellegrini a tough decision to make up front.
Stevan Jovetic started in behind Edin Dzeko in the win over Chelsea with the Montenegrin showing good movement and finding the back of the net for the opener. Alvaro Negredo will know the Barcelona defence well from his time with Sevilla and is arguably a superior option than Dzeko however, due to his physical presence up against Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano.
3. Pellegrini must show tactical nous
A manager who spent just short of a decade in La Liga with Villarreal, Real Madrid and Malaga, Man City’s Chilean boss has vast experience of facing tonight’s opposition.
That said, knowing what you’ve got to do to overcome Barcelona and actually stopping them are two very different things and if the 60-year-old can lead the knockout first-timers into the quarter-finals it would rank up there alongside his finest achievements.
He has rejected claims that Jose Mourinho out-smarted him in the league defeat to Chelsea (putting the loss down to missed opportunities) and while that is questionable, he did make up for it when the teams met in the FA Cup three days ago.
City pressed Chelsea’s attacking players early and were successful in keeping Samuel Eto’o, Eden Hazard and Willian quiet. But they will have to even more disciplined if they are to have a similar result against Tata Martino’s side.