Football: Pep demands perfect form against Barca

Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi (middle) arriving at Manchester Airport yesterday. City have never beaten Barca in the Champions League and need to find a way to stop Messi if the drought is to come to an end.
Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi (middle) arriving at Manchester Airport yesterday. City have never beaten Barca in the Champions League and need to find a way to stop Messi if the drought is to come to an end.PHOTO: REUTERS

Still smarting from Nou Camp loss, City boss wants to reverse Champions League ledger

LONDON • Manchester City must play "perfectly" to beat Barcelona in the Champions League today, according to manager Pep Guardiola, whose side suffered a 4-0 thrashing in the Nou Camp last month.

City won for the first time in seven games in all competitions on Saturday, crushing West Bromwich Albion 4-0 in the Premier League, but Guardiola knows his former club represent a far greater challenge.

"I have never thought that we can't win a football match and I never will. Even when we lost 4-0," Guardiola told a news conference yesterday. "It's difficult and we know we need to play almost perfectly to win - and if not, we will congratulate them and move on.

"Winning the last game helped a lot but the Champions League is much different. Tomorrow we have another chance against the best."

While Barcelona can secure progress to the knockout phase at the Etihad Stadium today, City are in a battle with Borussia Moenchengladbach for second spot in Group C.

Another loss to the Catalan side would leave their progress in real jeopardy.

"For them it's not a final, for us it is like a final," Guardiola, who is yet to taste defeat at home since taking over at City, said. "There are just three games left. We dropped points in Glasgow (Celtic) and we have to recover those points."

Barcelona will be without the injured defensive trio of Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Jeremy Mathieu (who is suspended for the game) and midfielder Andres Iniesta, who has a knee injury.

But they remain firm favourites to win and leave City facing an uphill battle to progress from Group C.

Sergio Busquets should be fresh after being rested for the weekend 1-0 win over Granada.

City have never beaten Barca in the Champions League and need to find a way to stop Lionel Messi if the drought is to come to an end.

Guardiola said: "In the first half at the Nou Camp we played well. I'd like them (City's players) to show courage and put everything into the game.

"We know them, they know us, but football is unpredictable sometimes. Hopefully our quality can make the difference."

City striker Nolito reckons his side's winless run against Barcelona will have come to an end eventually.

He said: "If we want to qualify, we need a win. One day we will have to beat Barca. We are going to try and take some points off them. Even if they have players missing, it is still Barcelona that we are playing."

City's cause, however, is not helped by injuries, with the right-back area particularly worrying.

Bacary Sagna and Pablo Zabaleta are both unavailable, meaning Guardiola has to choose between Fernando, who played there for the first time against West Brom, and 19-year-old Pablo Maffeo.

"We have to think we've not got right-backs," Guardiola said. "We have one who recently played there and one who is 19."

Striker Sergio Aguero will start, however, after being surprisingly left out of the away clash.

The Argentinian scored twice against West Brom and looked close to being back to his best. "When he is happy of course all the team is happy," Guardiola said.

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 01, 2016, with the headline 'Pep demands perfect form against Barca'. Print Edition | Subscribe