5 talking points ahead of tonight's Champions League action

Manuel Pellegrini’s side face a formidable Barca team, plus more games to look forward to.

City also faced Barca in the last 16 of the 2013-14 Champions League campaign.
City also faced Barca in the last 16 of the 2013-14 Champions League campaign.
Image: EMPICS Sport

1. Time for Man City to send out Champions League statement

IN RECENT YEARS, Manchester City have undeniably established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the Premier League, and — barring any major disasters — are likely to remain as one of England’s top teams for years to come.

However, for all their exorbitant spending, the one area where they have conspicuously failed so far is the Champions League.

The club failed to get out of the group stages in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, and were beaten by Barca in the last 16 in 2013-14. So for a club of the Etihad outfit’s ambition, their current record is unacceptable.

Beating Barcelona over two legs would constitute the type of statement that would virtually assure the removal of their reputation as perennial underachievers in Europe. Such an outcome is unexpected though, with Barca most people’s favourites to progress, however a City triumph is hardly unforeseeable — if the talented likes of Sergio Aguero and David Silva are on the top of their game, there a few teams who can match Manuel Pellegrini’s side.

2. Retaining discipline vital for City

City need to be extremely careful tonight. Star midfielder Yaya Toure is already suspended for the encounter with La Liga giants Barcelona, while Edin Dzeko, Sergio Aguero, Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy are all just one yellow card away from a ban.

Even though they’re playing away from home, Barca are expected to dominate possession — as is usually the case — which leaves City more prone, especially as they tire in the game’s latter stages, to committing fouls and running the risk of leaving themselves with a depleted squad for the return leg.

They will also have last year’s Champions League clash in the back of their minds. The first leg, which the English side lost 2-0, was transformed following the sending off of defender Martin Demichelis, with the Catalan team capitalising on their extra man.

Similarly, in the second leg, City failed to keep 11 men on the field throughout, as Pablo Zabaleta was sent off and the club’s European dream died.

It’s therefore no coincidence that, over the course of Champions League history, 28 players have been sent off against Barcelona, with 10 of them representing English clubs — a record on both counts. Put simply, Barca are masters at wearing the opposition out and forcing them to commit the type of desperate fouls that oblige referees to produce cards.

3. Arsene Wenger returns to his old stomping ground

Britain Soccer Premier League Source: AP/Press Association Images

(Wenger faces former club Monaco tomorrow night)

Although Arsene Wenger’s spell as manager of Monaco will ultimately be remembered as a success, there is no doubt his departure left a bitter taste on both sides of the divide.

For all the success he enjoyed in France, Wenger left disillusioned with a club that had been tarnished by claims of bribery and corruption — allegations that were given credence in court.

The veteran Gunners boss will consequently be hoping to gain revenge on his former club, as Arsenal host Monaco in the first leg of their last-16 encounter on Wednesday.

Wenger’s men have looked less than assured in defence at times during this year’s Champions League campaign — most notably when they surrendered a three-goal lead at home to Anderlecht.

However, the Londoners’ performance down the other end will be equally pivotal, as Monaco’s defence has been incredibly impressive so far in Europe. The French side managed to progress as winners of their group despite having scored just four goals so far in the competition this season. Moreover, they also boast the joint-best defensive record in Ligue 1, despite sitting a disappointing fourth in the table.

4. Can Dortmund continue to defy erratic league form?

Though their fortunes have improved of late and they are no longer in the relegation zone, Borussia Dortmund still sit just 12th in the Bundesliga amid what has been a disastrous season from a domestic viewpoint.

Nevertheless, oddly, Jurgen Klopp’s side have still managed to enjoy a relatively successful campaign in Europe thus far, deservedly finishing top of their Champions League group to progress to the knockout stages.

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They have their work cut out for them, as they face reigning Serie A champions Juventus, in a repeat of the 1997 Champions League final, which the German side unexpectedly won 3-1.

Nevertheless, while their form may be indifferent, a repeat of the type of performance that saw them outclass Arsenal earlier in the campaign may be enough to topple the Italians and give their season a much-needed boost.

So Klopp and co undoubtedly have the potential to make a substantial impact on the knockout stages, even if much of their form of late would suggest otherwise.

5. Atletico look odds-on to overcome Leverkusen

Like their German counterparts Dortmund, though to not quite as extreme an extent, Leverkusen have endured a disappointing season domestically.

A 2-2 draw with Aufsburg at the weekend added to their woe, with the side currently off the pace in the Bundesliga race for Champions League qualification in sixth place.

However, once again like Dortmund, they have also enjoyed a relatively positive Champions League campaign, comfortably finishing second in their group to progress to the knockout stages.

Atletico Madrid have similarly failed to hit the heights of their previous league campaign so far, but third place in La Liga, where they are currently placed, is still highly respectable when you consider the financial might Diego Simeone’s side are up against and the key players they lost in the summer.

If last year’s Champions League runners-up can reach their peak level, then the Spaniards should be too good for Leverkusen, but they have been known to be a little inconsistent at times this year — their recent stunning 4-0 defeat of Real Madrid was followed by a demoralising 2-0 loss against Celta Vigo.

– Fu

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Paul Fennessy

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