City must bring the game to Barcelona
ROUND OF 16, 1ST LEG
MAN CITY v BARCELONA
(Tomorrow, 3.45am, Singtel TV Ch 111)
Luis Suarez considered his Champions League opponents.
He pondered the attacking threats posed by Manchester City. He acknowledged the strengths of Sergio Aguero and David Silva.
And then he offered that buck-toothed grin.
"We are Barcelona," he said. "We are aware of our qualities, so is everyone else."
Arrogance flows through the Uruguayan's veins like goals through his Barcelona side. His ego is entirely at home among football's elite.
At Liverpool, his influence was totemic. He was a revered symbol of Reds hope.
But he is a mere man among men at Barcelona.
He's part of a Fab Three with Lionel Messi and Neymar and has been struggling to shake off the Ringo Starr role.
Messi and Neymar are second and third behind Cristiano Ronaldo in La Liga's scoring charts, with the Argentinian breaking Spanish and Champions League records for fun.
Suarez might make up the numbers, but three are not a crowd in the Barcelona line-up. The forwards represent an attacking colossus.
City's only chance of victory lies in their ability to stop the Fab Three from making music at the Etihad tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
If they muffle Messi, Neymar and Suarez, they silence Barcelona's orchestra.
Last season, they succumbed to the Catalan side at the same stage.
City lacked the experience to handle the pressure and the tools to match Barca's panache.
They lost a man in each tie. They lost their composure. They lost face. The world's richest club went out of the Champions League as paupers.
Manuel Pellegrini and half the first team are unlikely to survive a second humiliation, which leaves the Chilean with a tactical dilemma.
Against all the odds, Malaga cobbled together a template for City last weekend, when they went to the Nou Camp and nullified Barca.
No concessions were made to beauty or boldness. Malaga parked buses and played safe, just as they had earlier in the season when they pinched a 0-0 draw. On this occasion, they went one better and stole a victory which ended Barca's 11-match unbeaten run.
For a manager so cautious in the Champions League, Pellegrini must be tempted by a similarly cynical approach.
Keep anyone in a Barcelona jersey under guard until someone makes off with the keys to the silverware late in the day.
The trouble is, Pellegrini adopted such "sit-and-siege" tactics when the two sides met last season and the move paid off - for Barcelona.
Rather than push their attacking strengths at home, City played within themselves. They held back. The leash wasn't taken off until it was too late.
City aren't Jose Mourinho's Chelsea. They don't do defensive particularly well. The erratic back four are not blessed with the telepathic cohesion to keep out Messi, Neymar and Suarez.
Barca's front three will pour forward with the persistence of an army of ants following a single instruction. They are not programmed to retreat.
City's Achilles' heel remains a persistent weakness at the back that impedes balance.
Vincent Kompany has gone through more partners than Hugh Hefner. Eliaquim Mangala helped to keep a clean sheet against Newcastle, but Barcelona are a different proposition entirely for the inconsistent 24-year-old.
With Yaya Toure suspended, a defensive approach is tantamount to tactical suicide, the coaching equivalent of dangling raw meat above a crocodile's snout.
If City can't be tentative, they might as well go toe-to-toe in a battle of the wizards. Let Aguero and Silva go to work with their wands.
Timing is on the side of the hosts. Aguero is returning to peak performance, reaching that rarified summit currently monopolised by Ronaldo, Messi and Neymar.
He's scored three in two games, making it 22 in 30 appearances.
And Silva danced past the Magpies, helping himself to a couple of goals, an assist and three chances in less than hour.
Both men can fly against Barcelona, but only if Pellegrini takes off the handbrake.
The mild-mannered manager from Chile needs to fight fire with fire to avoid a repeat of last season's damp squib.
City can't sit back at the Etihad and hope to contain Messi, Neymar and Suarez. They just don't have enough water carriers.
They'll only get their fingers burnt.
I think when you play against the big teams you never know what they’re doing on the pitch... but we are Barcelona and we know what we can do against City.
- Barcelona striker Luis Suarez on Man City