Pep set for misery against Barcelona, again
Citizens look vulnerable just when Guardiola makes another visit to the Nou Camp
BARCELONA v MAN CITY
(Tomorrow, 2.45am, Singtel TV Ch 112 & StarHub TV Ch 212)
Barcelona's prodigal son will again return home tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
There will still, however, be little in the way of a warm reconciliation for Pep Guardiola when he walks wearing the Manchester City standard.
Once Johan Cruyff's footballing disciple; he philosophised that the Dutchman was the architect of the Nou Camp's own Sistine Chapel and his successors its mere preservers.
The one-time ball boy and La Masia graduate continued Cruyff's work and embodied everything that his native club represented both as an esteemed player and coach.
And then, where endless adulation had once stood, ambivalence took hold.
Guardiola walked away from Barcelona after four years of unprecedented success, citing an emptiness that an emphatic haul of 14 major trophies had failed to fill.
Upon returning three seasons later, he was left feeling even less replenished as his Bayern Munich side were all but condemned to a Champions League semi-final elimination.
Departing empty-handed on a second consecutive occasion, this time with City, is an unthinkable outcome for a man who prides himself on meticulousness.
There is never an opportune time to face the reigning Spanish champions but Guardiola will undoubtedly wish that it had arrived later, rather than sooner, during his debut season in England.
His men won 10 successive matches but have now gone on a three-game winless streak.
That is hardly ideal preparation ahead of City's latest meeting with the club who have consistently had the measure of them in their recent history in the competition.
Barcelona are also the club that they yearn to become.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, City's attempts to artificially replicate various facets of life in Catalonia is arguably the greatest tribute that could possibly be paid.
To ultimately overcome the shining beacon of European football, they have shamelessly endeavoured to copy the Nou Camp blueprint down to the slightest detail - including the recruitment of several former technical and executive personnel.
But their belief that Guardiola's appointment has finally squared the circle is misplaced.
It is a revolution that remains far from the finished article.
There will be pitfalls and glaring imperfections, as the City manager has himself shown.
Shown up in defeat to Tottenham and a home draw with Everton, previously inconceivable seeds of doubt have sprung at the Etihad Stadium.
Starting Sergio Aguero on the substitutes' bench last weekend, only to be forced into calling upon his talismanic striker later in the game, highlighted the flaws.
So, too, did the failure of a three-man defence at the first attempted experiment.
For Guardiola, avoiding a fifth defeat to Barcelona in four seasons is imperative for him as much as City.
When they last travelled to the Nou Camp, in March 2015, he displayed obvious delight from the stands when Lionel Messi audaciously nutmegged James Milner deep in his own half.
The reaction was far more incendiary two months later when the Argentine wizard struck two goals against Bayern in a win, which was further compounded in the return leg at the Allianz Arena.
He had been in the Bundesliga's top job for barely two seasons before he was afforded a highly-anticipated return to his former stomping ground.
Even that failed to prepare him for what would follow at the hands of his former Barca teammate Luis Enrique.
Teams with lesser overall quality than he boasted with Bayern have emerged triumphant from the Nou Camp. City, for all their vast resources, could conceivably join them.
It it just not likely to happen now, or any time in the near future.
BY THE NUMBERS
Manchester City have lost all their last four competitive matches against Barcelona.
Man City 0 Barcelona 2
Barcelona 2 Man City 1
Man City 1 Barcelona 2
Barcelona 1 Man City 0