Barcelona vs. Manchester City: Still hope for a great finish

Juan Manuel Serrano Arce

This was supposed to be an excellent tie. The first leg was not excellent. Can Manchester City produce something better at Camp Nou?

Every manager has their blind spot. Pep Guardiola didn't know when to play a more direct game with Barcelona, Jose Mourinho can't accommodate players who won't defend, Alex Ferguson couldn't buy central midfielders and Arsene Wenger has never seen a referee's decision in his life.

Manuel Pellegrini thinks that Martin Demichelis is a good central defender.

Ultimately, that was Manchester City's downfall, and it's the reason why they're heading to the Camp Nou down two goals to Barcelona. City were giving Barca all they could handle up until the game turned on its head off a Jesus Navas giveaway, a positional error by Vincent Kompany and a terrible tackle by Demichelis. What should have been a very even tie is now nothing close to that at all. Barcelona can and should progress easily, thanks to Demichelis' sending off.

That's not to say there's no hope for City. Barcelona are in poor form at the moment and there are rumors circulating that the powers that be have already decided that Gerardo Martino will not be retained as manager for next season. The legendary Carles Puyol has announced his retirement and is no longer physically able to carry a leaky defense. Andres Iniesta is dealing with family issues, and it'll be understandable if he's not fully focused on Wednesday.

This is the same team that lost 7-0 -- seriously, 7-0!!! -- to Bayern Munich last season, and they were probably better then than they are right now, even with the addition of Neymar. Even if Barca get past City, no one is taking them seriously as Champions League contenders.

If you're a neutral, hope for an early goal for Manchester City. This should have been a great tie for 180 minutes. A great ending can still happen, even if these two strangely flawed teams take a convoluted route to get there.

First leg score

Manchester City 0-2 Barcelona. Yep, at the Etihad. Good job, Martin Demichelis. I'm sure you already know, but you ruin everything.

Team news

Barcelona have a clean bill of health, save for some fringe players. Jonathan Dos Santos and Isaac Cuenca are still unavailable due to long-term injuries. Jose Manuel Pinto has recovered from a back problem and will be on the bench. Andres Iniesta missed the last game due to family issues, but is expected to play.

Manchester City are starting to get healthy, but they're not without their issues. Matija Nastasic is not quite back to full fitness and isn't expected to play in this match. The same goes for attacker Stevan Jovetic. Martin Demichelis is suspended after he picked up a red card in the first leg. Sergio Agüero is back, however, and he should start.

Projected lineups (left to right)

Barcelona (4-3-3): Victor Valdes; Jordi Alba, Javier Mascherano, Gerard Pique, Dani Alves; Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta; Neymar, Lionel Messi, Alexis Sanchez

Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Joe Hart; Aleksandar Kolarov, Joleon Lescott, Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta; Fernandinho, Yaya Toure; David Silva, Sergio Agüero, Jesus Navas; Alvaro Negredo

football formations

Key Matchups

Xavi and Busquets vs. Toure and Fernandinho - City were doing a pretty good job of keeping some possession in the first leg, as well as countering off Barcelona turnovers, before the Demichelis red card and subsequent goal. While City certainly won't be expected to turn around the first leg result at Camp Nou, it's not out of the question if Yaya Toure and Fernandinho are at their best. On the evidence of the first 30 minutes of the first leg and last year's Bayern Munich tie, Barca can be overrun by extremely athletic and fit midfielders. They'll have to be at their tidiest with the ball and their best positionally.

Jesus Navas vs. his brain - Yes, Martin Demichelis deserves to be made fun of and dropped forever for his decision to lunge at Lionel Messi -- especially since he did a similarly dumb thing against Wigan over the weekend -- but he was put into a bad position, mostly by Jesus Navas. The City winger had lots of support in the middle just before the turnover that led to that red card, but he chose to run at two defenders. Surprise! He lost the ball and it cost his team the game.

City's setup with one straight-ahead, run to the byline and cross winger and one tricky inside-out winger is a good one, but Navas has to pick his spots wisely. He can't just run at defenders and try to get by them every time he has the ball. Sometimes a turnover would be disastrous or there are just better options in the center. He needs to be more intelligent if City are going to pull an upset.

Prediction

There won't be any players on the pitch for City who are penalty or red card machines, so they might be able to stay in this game for more than 30 minutes. Heck, there's even a good chance that they get to halftime with the score at 0-0 or 1-0 in their favor. But at the end of the day, Barcelona generally don't lose leads at home. 1-1 draw, and the Blaugrana progress.

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