Manchester City's injury problems give Barcelona a huge opportunity

Clive Brunskill

Manchester City will have to face Barcelona with two of their most important players, Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho, absent or not in full condition. That will change the narrative of this encounter drastically, unless Manuel Pellegrini can find a new way of playing.

"The players are obviously very good. On top of that -- and I want to make it very clear that, for me, it is just a coincidence and nothing else -- the reality is they have had many crucial decisions in their favour. They are lucky. Against Liverpool, the Sterling 'goal,' the penalty on Suarez. Against Newcastle, the goal that is a clear goal. Against Tottenham, Dawson's goal, the penalty, the red card. They are having everything." - Jose Mourinho on Manchester City

"Of course they had an impressive win, and a great quality game at Tottenham. But if you analyse it well, this game could have turned. All the turning points went in their favour. If they had not, you are not sure they would have won the game." - Arsene Wenger on Manchester City

There was something odd about José Mourinho and Arsene Wenger finding themselves temporary allies (before they decided to revert to type a week later) by claiming that Manchester City had been fortunate. Analysing games and looking at points that winning teams almost threw it away is a desperate act -- the point is that they don't, or they find a way to win regardless. Look back on the archetypal great season by an English team in the Premier League -- United in 1999, and all was almost lost on dozens of occasions. Yet it would be a bitter man that would refer to that as "lucky."

That's the kind of achievement that Manchester City will hope to replicate with this current side, which has mostly been defined this season by their depth. Their rotating cast of strikers have managed to blow teams away, and give them an edge that neither of their three pursuers have. Chelsea and Arsenal have built their challenges on a mountain of London grit, while the stylish northerners are the only team who have looked capable of winning 4-0 without really trying. Liverpool are similarly dangerous in attack, but erratic and unpredictable, and have nothing like City's depth.

That may serve them well in the Premier League, but whether it will take them far in Europe has been questioned. The jury is still out on whether Alvaro Negredo did become a truly elite striker upon his move to Manchester -- "flat-track bully" can be levelled at almost any good player, since even the biggest of big-game players do better against bad teams than good ones, but nine goals in 23 Premier League appearances is not a great return, and the Spaniard has looked rather blunt in recent weeks. Edin Dzeko, meanwhile, continues to show flashes of brilliance but not the sustained performances to quite cement himself as a guaranteed, automatic starter.

That will be a problem for City given that Sergio Aguero will be absent for the first leg of their Champions League tie with Barcelona. Not counting Yaya Toure, he is perhaps the only one of their attackers who possesses the fear factor, the element that dominates the thoughts of all opposition as they become obsessed with how to stop him. He is the only one who can win a game single-handedly or produce a goal out of absolutely nothing, and his loss could be devastating in competing with the Catalans.

Given Aguero's absence, Manuel Pellegrini's only real option is to go toe-to-toe with Barcelona. Another injury problem may prevent even that, with Fernandinho only just being passed fit and therefore probably not available to start. Even if he is, it will surely reduce his effectiveness given the nature of his play. The combination of the Brazilian and Aguero being missing led to City looking rather lost against Norwich City, unable to really drive forward or produce some moment of magic to win the game.

In effect, we will not, for the first leg at least, get the showdown we've been looking for. Barcelona should be going to Manchester City looking to test a side of considerable but unknown power, in a clash between two different footballing styles and two great teams. Instead, they'll head there with an opportunity to kick City while they're down, and to deny their opponents their home advantage. Unless Pellegrini can pull off a very special Plan B, we might have to wait a little longer to find out just how good City at their best really are.

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