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The Champions League is back with Barça taking on Premier League title holders Manchester City in the first leg of their last 16 tie. It is two months since the teams were drawn together at this stage of the competition for the second consecutive season and the moment of truth is finally upon us.
Luis Enrique’s squad trained at the Etihad Stadium on Monday evening with all 21 players available having made the trip to England - only the injured Douglas and Thomas Vermaelen have stayed behind in Barcelona.
For Manchester City, midfielder James Milner seems set to return to the squad after missing the 5-0 win at home against Newcastle United at the weekend due to injury. January signing Wilfred Bony should also be included in the squad after making his debut for the club in the league win on Saturday, coming on as a substitute in the second half. The striker signed from Swansea City in the winter transfer market only arrived in Manchester last Monday following the Ivory Coast’s victorious campaign in the African Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea. Bony’s international team mate and former Barça man Touré Yaya, however, misses the first leg against his former club due to suspension.
Barça boss Luis Enrique appeared before the press on Monday at the Etihad Stadium, revealing that playing, “in a country like England with a footballing tradition motivates the players, more so against a side who are candidates to win the competition.” For the visitors’ coach: “In this kind of tie with two teams looking to win the competition, there is no favourite.”
Manchester City coach Manuel Pellegrini also spoke to the press ahead of the game on Tuesday. The Chilean was forthright in stating that his side would take a more positive approach than last season and he also added: “We cannot only focus on Leo Messi because they also have Luis Suárez, Neymar, Iniesta and many other great players.”
The blaugranes’ run of 11 consecutive wins in all competitions came to an unexpected end on Saturday with a 1-0 home defeat in the league at the hands of Málaga. An early strike from Juanmi saw Luis Enrique’s team condemned to just their second defeat of 2015. Barça lost their first away game in the Champions League this season 3-2 at Paris Saint Germain but they recovered to record wins at Ajax and APOEL on their way to topping the group.
Manchester City struggled initially in the group phase, taking only two points from their opening four matches. However, back to back wins over Roma and Bayern Munich saw them sneak into the last 16 in second place in the group behind the German champions. Domestically, Pellegini’s side went five games without a win in January and February before a 4-1 away win at Stoke City saw them back on the right track. A handsome home victory over Newcastle United at the weekend means they have cut Chelsea’s lead at the top of the Premier League back down to five points.
Ones to watch
Gerard Piqué spent four years across as a Manchester United player and admitted in the pre-game press conference that returning to the city was always special for him. Luis Suárez is another who knows the Etihad Stadium well after his three and a half seasons with Premier League club Liverpool. The Uruguayan scored twice past City keeper Joe Hart in last summer’s World Cup in his country’s 2-1 win over England in the group stage of the tournament.
Sergio Agüero missed the first leg of the tie against Barça last season due to injury but this time around he seems certain to start after scoring three goals in his last two games for City. The Argentine, however, is one of four Manchester players who are just a booking away from missing the second leg, the others being Gael Clichy, Edin Dzeko and Pablo Zabaleta.
FC Barcelona are looking to make an eighth successive appearance in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. The blaugranes met Manchester City in official competition for the first time last season, also in the last 16, Barça won 2-0 in England in the first leg before finishing off the job with a 2-1 win at Camp Nou in the return leg.
Manchester City faced FC Barcelona in their very first game at the Etihad Stadium back in 2003, winning 2-1 in a pre-season friendly against a blaugrana side that featured Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernández.
No matter where you are in the world we have you covered. And remember, you can enjoy live commentary in English on Radio Barça. The link will appear at fcbarcelona.com just before kick-off. Twitter users can follow @FCBarcelona for a live feed of all the action.
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