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FC Barcelona’s third Champions League group game sees the Camp Nou welcome back a club icon in Pep Guardiola, but once the customary handshake has taken place between himself and his old friend Luis Enrique, the focus will swiftly turn to the pitch where an enthralling game awaits.
Barça are looking for their third straight win of the campaign to consolidate their place at the top of the group while Manchester City will be craving a good result after drawing away to bottom side Celtic last time out.
Luis Enrique was grateful to oversee the final training session before the game with a near-complete squad at his disposal. The only player certain to miss out through injury on Wednesday is goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen.
Indeed, on the morning of the match, the Barça boss called up all 21 available players for match duty, although three of those names will need to be dropped in order to form the regulatory eighteen.
Guardiola is without full-back Bacary Sagna and midfielder Fabian Delph but Kevin De Bruyne and Vincent Kompany returned to action over the weekend against Everton and are in the squad to face Barça.
Luis Enrique spoke to the press on Tuesday and, unsurprisingly, much of the questions aimed at him were about his friendship, but while the Barça boss stated his belief that Pep “is the best current coach” he was more keen to talk about the match ahead.
“There are games against opponents in which possession is not that important. It will be against Manchester City, but that does not mean that who has more possession will win.”
Most managers fear facing Leo Messi, but Guardiola spoke of his joy in seeing the star back in action: “It’s always a pleasure to see him play and I am happy he is fit again,” before adding that, in his opinion, Barça are “the best team in the world”.
Barça go into the game on the back of a comfortable 4-0 home win over Deportivo and will now be looking to earn back-to-back home victories for the first time this season.
City got off to a flying start under their new manager, winning their first ten games in all competitions but they have been somewhat halted in recent weeks having failed to win any of their last three games. They drew 3-3 in the Champions League against Celtic, lost to Tottenham, 2-0, and then drew at home against Everton, 1-1, last Saturday, though they are still top the Premier League.
The pair have met twice in the competition in recent years, in the 2013/14 and 2014/15 campaign at the second round stage. Messi and Dani Alves handed Barça a 2-0 win at the City of Manchester Stadium, and the same players scored in the reverse fixture in a 2-1 victory to seal progression.
The following year, a Luis Suárez brace in England (1-2) followed by a solitary Ivan Rakitic goal (1-0) in Barcelona sealed progression — on a night when Messi left Guardiola speechless — en route to winning the competition.
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