Manuel Pellerini insists Manchester City are in a better position to reach the Uefa Champions League last 8 for the first time this season having succumbed to Tuesday night’s round-of-16 opponents Barcelona in their only attempt.
The Premier League champions are only making their second appearance in the knockout phase of Europe’s elite competition and are looking to outwit 4-time winners, Barcelona, who have not lost a last-16 tie in the past seven seasons.
The Baulgranas won 4-1 on aggregate as both sides met for the first time in a competitive match last term in the same stage of the competition.
“Last year was different to this year,” Pellegrini said while previewing the top of the bill clash on Monday afternoon.
“We arrived at this stage of the Champions League after playing 19 games in two months but I hope this year we will do it as we are not playing so many games.
“We are in a good moment but must recognise we are playing against a strong team.”
Goals from Lionel Messi and Daniel Alves in both legs of this fixture last season- the one at the Camp Nou sandwiching Vincent Kompany’s effort- ended Pellegrini’s side’s campaign 12 months ago, with City having a man sent off in both games.
City advanced from the group stages via an impressive escape act in Group E. They had taken only two points from their first four fixtures but then defeated Bayern Munich and AS Roma to salvage runners-up berth in their pool.
“We never thought we were out of the Champions League,” the Chilean boss said. “We had the trust to continue to fight until the end. This team will always try to do it.
“We didn’t play well, especially here at home against Roma and CSKA Moscow but our team showed the personality and quality to qualify.”
He added: “At this stage of the competition when you play over 180 minutes it’s very important to win the first game. After that try not to concede goals here at home. If you can’t, draw, but 0-0 is better than 1-1.
Barcelona’s 2-0 win at the Etihad Stadium last year was their first in five trips to Manchester and their first success on English soil since a 3-1 Champions League final triumph over Manchester United at Wembley in May 2011.
Coach Luis Enrique’s side have lost once on the road in the competition this season- a 2-3 defeat at Paris St-Germain on Match Day 1. They however rebounded with victories at Ajax and APOEL Nicosia.
“The main thing for our team is to try to fight for the possession of the ball, that’s very important. We need to have the ball as long as we can. After that, give good distribution to take Barcelona as near to their box as we can.”
Nice having Toure around
City recorded maximum points only once- a 4-1 win at Stoke City on 11 February- while Ivory Coast striker Yaya Toure was away on an all-conquering international duty at this year’s Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea. Argentine striker Sergio Aguero ended a six-game scoring drought in that game.
The Cityzen’s managed to record their first clean sheet in 11 fixtures in all competitions on Saturday, with Toure this time orchestrating play from the middle of the park in the 5-0 win against Newcastle United on Saturday. Fellow Ivorian, Wilfried Bony, a £28m signing from Swansea, made his debut as a second-half substitute against the Magpies.
“I always prefer to play with Yaya- the team is better with Yaya. We can play without Yaya also,” Pelegrini noted. “We played without him against Roma and Bayern Munich (home). We have a good squad to replace him.
“Bony has joined our squad and I think he can make a big impact in the team. We need four strikers and I think he will be an important player for us.
“Aguero is one of the top five players in the world. When he’s 100 per cent fit he is very difficult to stop. I think that this year Sergio is arriving in a good place.”