Football: Man City won't shy away from Barca test

Manchester City's Sergio Aguero (centre) training with John Stones (left) and Raheem Sterling (right) ahead of their Champions League clash against Barcelona at the Nou Camp. Striker Aguero is hopeful Argentina team-mate Lionel Messi will have an off
Manchester City's Sergio Aguero (centre) training with John Stones (left) and Raheem Sterling (right) ahead of their Champions League clash against Barcelona at the Nou Camp. Striker Aguero is hopeful Argentina team-mate Lionel Messi will have an off day against the English side.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Guardiola hopes to put recent away record in Champions League right on Nou Camp return

BARCELONA • For one of the most decorated coaches of all-time, boasting a 75 per cent career win percentage and 21 trophies, Pep Guardiola's record of two wins from his last 11 Champions League away matches is uncharacteristic.

Manchester City's long courting of the Spaniard was not just to dominate at home, but secure City's place among the European elite by winning the Champions League.

Despite reaching the last four for the first time in their history last season, Guardiola insists they are far from the finished article.

"If you ask me if we are ready to compete in Europe, then we are not ready," he said last month despite a stunning 10-game winning run to start his tenure.

That streak was snapped in the Champions League in a 3-3 draw at Celtic three weeks ago. Guardiola summarised the draw as a "good test" of where City are away from home in Europe. Yet, as he returns to the club that made him as a player and a coach in Barcelona today, he and City will get a better look into how far they have to go to be Champions League contenders.

"The last decade, the last 15 years they dominate football matches," said Guardiola.

Much of that dominance and style of play is thanks to him.

His 2008-2012 vintage side that won 14 trophies and even more hearts for their mix of intense pressing and penetrating passing are widely regarded as the best Barcelona team of all-time.

But under his old team-mate Luis Enrique, Barcelona have moved on. Whereas the midfield axis of Xavi and Andres Iniesta used to provide Lionel Messi as the focal point of the Barcelona attack, the Spanish champions now call upon three of the deadliest strikers in the world.

Luis Suarez and Neymar complement Messi and give Barcelona a counter-attacking dimension not so prevalent under Guardiola.

City trail Group C pacesetters Barcelona by two points and Guardiola would not settle for anything less than a win against his former club.

"We have four games left and we need to win two of them, make six points, to be in the next round. And we are going to try to win the first points in our next game for sure," the City manager said.

The Catalans are unbeaten at the Nou Camp in the Champions League since 2013 and are boosted by Messi's return from a groin injury during their 4-0 win over Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday.

"He will be difficult to stop, I know that from experience," said City striker Sergio Aguero, Messi's international team-mate with Argentina. "All we can hope is that he has a bad day and our defence plays the game of its life."

Enrique has been boosted by the return of full-backs Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba to training, while Guardiola's only major absentee is Bacary Sagna. The Barcelona coach remained coy about his team's preparations, adding that there has been no interaction with Guardiola prior to the big clash.

"I've not spoken to Pep," Enrique said. "They're progressing continuously and even more so thanks to their coach."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

BARCELONA V MANCHESTER CITY
Singtel TV Ch112 & StarHub Ch212, tomorrow, 2.45am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2016, with the headline 'Man City won't shy away from Barca test'. Print Edition | Subscribe