Champions League football is the greatest challenge in the club game and it doesn’t get any harder than facing Barcelona. The Catalan giants are one of the sport’s great and powerful institutions and, in part, that is down to the wonders worked by Pep Guardiola. The Spaniard nurtured the greatest player of all time and won trophies at an obscene rate, but it was his style that left the greatest mark on the world’s most popular sport. A tactical enlightenment took place in Catalonia, as a new way of playing the game was developed to devastating effect.
Guardiola’s Manchester City team are now facing the juggernaut he built. Barcelona have evolved as a team and as a club, but they are no less irresistible a force. The second part of a double-header between the two teams takes part in north west England on Tuesday night, with the drubbing that Manchester City faced at Camp Nou dauntingly fresh in the memory.
Qualification from Group C is almost guaranteed for Barcelona, who have taken nine points from the nine available. City, on the other hand, sit just one point ahead of Borussia Monchengladbach who are in third spot. Gladbach host Celtic, whom they dominated in gameweek three, on Tuesday night and are strong favourites to claim another victory over the Scottish club.
So potentially, Guardiola’s side could be two points behind Monchengladbach by 10pm on Tuesday. Probably, in fact. The performances a couple of weeks ago suggest that is the most likely outcome.
Should the worst happen for City, they will, of course, have an opportunity to put everything right at Borussia Stadium on November 23rd. Europa League football will not be a certainty for the 2013/14 Premier League champions if they are defeated by Barcelona: their Bundesliga rivals will face Barcelona in gameweek six, so it will still be in City’s control. But things might just look tighter than Guardiola might have expected at the start of the campaign.
Still, points on the board are meant to be favoured – or so the cliché says. Defeat for Manchester City against Barcelona is not the be-all and end-all though. The fixture layout will likely leave the Citizens looking in an exaggeratedly precarious position although qualification – unless they return to their indifferent form of the previous few weeks – should be still achievable. Pressure on the game in Monchengladbach, regardless of the results on Tuesday, will be high and that game is likely to be far more influential on the fortunes of Manchester City’s campaign than the visit of Barcelona.
Success against Barcelona is not mathematically necessary, but a good performance is a must, regardless of the outcome. After the significant improvement against West Brom, recovery after a dodgy October must be continued on Tuesday. Another thrashing like last time and City’s credentials for reaching the latter stage of the Champions League will be harmed seriously. Failure to record a victory against Celtic is all that raises doubt over City’s ability to qualify for the last 16, the 3-3 north of the border will be the real regret should Guardiola’s side suffer the ignominy of demotion to the Europa League.