Any passionate soccer fan looks forward to the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League and undoubtedly the tie of the round (sorry Arsenal fans) is the heavyweight clash between Manchester City and Barcelona. Here I look at five reasons why I think the tiki-taka wizardry of the Spanish side will overcome the goal scoring powerhouse of Manchester over what are set to be two enthralling legs of football.
1. Messi Returning To Top Form
It’s no surprise that Barcelona are favorites to win the game according to William Hill line betting, plus that Barca are still heavily reliant on the genius of Lionel Messi and the little Argentine is starting to show a return to form following three goals in his last two games including a stunning brace in the recent 1-4 victory at Sevilla. It could be argued in his two month absence that other players such as Alexis Sanchez really came to the fore but you cannot blame Gerardo Martino for building his team around the magic of Barcelona’s number 10.
By the time the second leg comes around Messi will be perilously close to his very best which as we know borders on the unplayable. When Messi rises to the big occasion it inspires his team-mates and that is an ominous sign come this battle of two footballing giants.
2. Neymar Is Back
To add further stimulation to the boys in scarlet and blue, their big summer signing Neymar has been cleared to play in Barcelona’s La Liga clash on Saturday at home to Rayo Vallecano which pretty much guarantees the Brazilian is going to be in the squad that travels to the Etihad. Before his injury the 22-year-old was just beginning to light up the Nou Camp with the samba trickery that £48.6m was expected to bring to the Spanish champions.
Having Messi and Neymar back firing at this stage of the campaign is like completing a stunning double swoop in the January transfer window. These two superstars are only going to get better as the season reaches its climax and they will take some stopping – particularly in the second leg when both have more game time under their belt.
3. The Absence Of Sergio Aguero
Aguero is a huge loss for the first leg on Tuesday. His absence was sorely felt when Chelsea threw the form book out of the window and took all three points at the Etihad ruining their perfect 100% home record as well as stopping City scoring at home for the first time since November 2010. City cannot afford to afford a repeat performance and more importantly result on Tuesday night.
Aguero and Alvaro Negredo have combined to become one of the most prolific partnerships in the Premier League this season with the pair showing a telepathic understanding. The raw strength and power of ‘the Beast’ gels perfectly with the dynamic Argentine to create a strike partnership which has only been rivaled by the Suarez and Sturridge (SAS) duo currently working in tandem at Anfield. The 25-year-old’s has the unique ability to make something happen out of nothing and his intelligent runs leave world-class defenders in bewilderment. Barcelona are susceptible to the counter-attack as shown against Valencia two weeks ago and the direct pace of Aguero will be sorely missed should the game become stretched.