Manchester City were just happy to make it to the Champions League knockout rounds after just scraping their way in to second place in the group stage, and their reward was to be drawn with Barcelona for a second year in a row. It's a cruel fate, and one that started off much like it did a year ago, with a 2-1 defeat in the first leg.
Now they have to try to overturn that deficit at the Camp Nou, with Barcelona's attacking triad in fine form and eager to show off for the home crowd. It doesn't look too good for Manchester City right now, and if anything their sheer desperation to try to get something, anything going well for them in this rough stretch will probably wind up making this match worse for them. But they're going to give it every ounce of effort they can to create an upset, and you have to give them credit for that. Shame it's not likely to come to much, though.
Both of these two teams are actually in remarkably good shape in terms of available players. Barcelona will be missing two players -- Thomas Vermaelen, who has still yet to play a game for the club, and Sergio Busquets. Barca are hopeful that by sitting out for this game, Busquets might get healthy in time for El Clasico on Sunday.
Manchester City will be missing Gael Clichy, who is suspended after earning two yellow cards in the first leg. Otherwise they should be able to throw out a full strength lineup, and they may have started Aleksander Kolarov over Clichy anyways to take advantage of his crosses and set piece service.
Projected lineups (left to right)
Barcelona (4-3-3): Marc-Andre ter Stegen; Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique, Javier Mascherano, Daniel Alves; Andres Iniesta, Sergi Roberto, Ivan Rakitic; Neymar, Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi
Manchester City (4-4-2): Joe Hart; Aleksandar Kolarov, Vincent Kompany, Martin Demichelis, Pablo Zabaleta; Samir Nasri, Yaya Toure, Fernando, Jesus Navas; Wilfried Bony, Sergio Agüero
Barcelona's front three vs. Manchester City's back four - No matter what else happens, the entire match hinges on this matchup. The Blaugrana's attacking trio of Messi, Neymar, and Suarez represent a massive matchup issue for, well, anyone, and if Manchester's defense can't manage to keep them contained in any meaningful way, then they'll be heading back to England trying to figure out what comes next now that they're out of the Champions League.
Jordi Alba vs. Jesus Navas - Alba hasn't been his normal rock-solid self this season, struggling to find and maintain consistent form, especially in the defensive phase of his game. With Navas' pace and willingness to run behind the defense, this could be a key place for City to try to find an exploitation in Barca's setup and take full advantage of it. Of course, Navas could just as easily have one of his "I'm just going to float in space and not do much" days, which would render Alba's shakiness moot.
Ivan Rakitic vs. Fernando Reges - Two under-appreciated souls in these lineups, Rakitic and Fernando are absolutely vital to what their teams do. They do all the nitty-gritty dirty work that lets these two teams operate the way they do, and without them Barcelona and Manchester City would be much worse off. Of course, they're also both smart players who likely recognize the other's value, so if one can shut down the other, that could give the victor's team a big leg up in the flow of the match.
Manchester City will be giving it their all, but facing Barcelona, at the Camp Nou, with their recent form? Yeah, sorry, not happening. This is going to be a 3-1 win for Barcelona.