Barcelona coach, Louis Enrique is taking a game at a time approach to Wednesday night’s Uefa Champions League round-of-16 return leg at home to Manchester City set to herald this weekend’s El Clasico.
The Premier League champions are but a familiar foe to Barca, who also played against the same oppositions in this fixture last season, but Enrique expects a different match from the one against a ten-man Cityzens in either stanza of their match-up last term when, first Martin Demichelis received his marching order at the Etihad Stadium and then Pablo Zabaleta at the Camp Nou.
“I don’t think last season’s game is anything to go by because both sides have changed players,” Enrique said in his pre-match conference on Tuesday.
“You can’t qualify just by playing one of the two games very well. We need to play well (in the second leg) too and see if we can beat City again.”
Aside a hapless home defeat by Malaga in the weekend prior to their 2-1 first-leg win in Manchester, the Catalans have won the rest of their last 17 matches and, even managed not to concede a goal for the first time in six games in a 2-0 win at Eibar at the weekend, courtesy of a Lionel Messi brace.
City have contrastingly managed as much wins as defeats this year, with Saturday’s 1-0 fall at Burnley taking their losses to five matches, while drawing the remainder three matches.
The defeat at nearby Turf Moor was also the English champions’ third in four matches, enough to set them adrift of domestic leaders Chelsea by six points, with the west London outfit having a game in hand. City are obviously losing their footing in the league title run-in and only two points separate them from fourth-placed neighbours Manchester United, as Liverpool lurks two more points around in fifth position, with just nine matches of the English top flight to go.
While those statistics does not make for good reading ahead of a crucial tie with current La Liga leaders, Enrique is not leaving anything to chance as his team bid for a record eighth successive last-8 appearance.
“I don’t think City look physically tired at all,” the Asturian coach said. “I am sure they will fight to qualify for the next round- I’m positive of that. We don’t take anything for granted and this match is very important.”
The four-time European Cup winners upstaged Real Madrid at the summit of the Spanish Primera division last month, but must win this weekend’s home El Clasico to sustain their pole position; however, Enrique’d rather take each game at a time.
He said: “There is only one match on our mind and that’s the one against City. Not the Clasico. It would be dangerous to play a cagey match (against the Cityzens).
“Our objective is to win and play better than our opponents. A place in the next round is at stake. You play the whole season for these games and that’s why the press room is full today.”
Sergio Busquets is sidelined with an ankle injury he suffered earlier in the month and Thomas Vermaelen-though confirmed on his Facebook Page today that he is “back training outdoors instead of in the gym”- is out for the season.
City can compete with 11 men
It is Man City’s second time in the knockout phase of the Champions League and they will be hoping to play at this stage for the first time without conceding a red card.
Manuel Pellegrini’s men are already blazing an unwanted trail with the most numbers of red cards received by any other side in the last 16. Defender Gael Clichy, who accounted for the side’s third red card of the ongoing European campaign last month, is suspended but Yaya Toure is available after completing his three-match ban.
The attacking duo of Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko, as well as defender Pablo Zabaleta, who was sent off in the corresponding fixture last term, are all nonetheless a booking away from suspension.
“We need to play like we did in the second half of the first leg,” the Chilean boss said. “For part of the first half Barca controlled the game but in the second half we had chances.
“We need to play 11 vs. 11 and then we have a team that can play like we did in the second half.”