Manchester City will finally find out whether their impressive record this season counts for anything against Europe’s finest attacking side.
City are hosting Barcelona in one of the most anticipated fixtures of this season’s Champions League as the lucrative tournament returns this week. Barcelona share top place in the Spanish league with two other clubs after a 6-0 drubbing of Rayo Vallecano – their biggest win since the opening day of the season.
City warmed up with a convincing 2-0 win over Chelsea in the FA Cup.
City have been a free-scoring machine so far, netting 68 league goals, and will rely on their strikers’ appetite to unsettle a Barcelona team that has shown defensive frailties all season.
Also this week, Arsenal host holders Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain travel to Bayer Leverkusen and AC Milan face Atletico at San Siro. Here are four things to know about this week’s round of 16 first leg action:
MANCHESTER CITY vs. BARCELONA
Facing Barcelona for the first time in a competitive match, Manchester City players will have been briefed by manager Manuel Pellegrini. But in case they don’t listen, Barca defender Gerard Pique has a message for them: the Catalan side will not be relying solely on Lionel Messi on Tuesday night.
With players like Brazilian striker Neymar, Alexis Sanchez and Pedro in the squad, Pique says his team has plenty of attacking options. “Everything was on Messi, with everyone trying to stop him. Now we have another way,” Pique said. “Ok, if it’s not Messi’s day, we have Neymar, we have Pedro, we have Alexis, we have a lot of quality in the striker area, and I think that’s really good for the team.”
ARSENAL vs. BAYERN MUNICH
Arsenal have lost in the round of 16 in their last three Champions League campaigns and manager Arsene Wenger will need a good result against the holders on Wednesday if he wants to prove Jose Mourinho wrong. Referring to Arsenal’s trophy drought since 2005, the Chelsea coach taunted Wenger by describing him as a “specialist in failure” this week.
Wenger hit back both on and off the pitch on Sunday. His team advanced to the FA Cup sixth round with a 2-1 win over Liverpool, and the Frenchman claimed Mourinho had embarrassed Chelsea with his remarks.
Bayern, a commanding 16 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga, will be without France winger Franck Ribery and attacking midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri due to injuries.
BAYER LEVERKUSEN vs. PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN
Consecutive losses at home in the German Cup and Bundesliga have dented Bayer Leverkusen’s morale before Paris Saint-Germain’s visit on Tuesday. However, Leverkusen coach Sami Hyypia was encouraged by the reaction shown in Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to Schalke.
“If we play like this on Tuesday I’ll be happy,” said Hyypia, whose side are second in the Bundesliga.
PSG are well equipped to take advantage of any stage fright from Leverkusen, who were embarrassed 5-0 by Manchester United in their previous Champions League game at home. Leverkusen lost 10-2 on aggregate to Barcelona in their last foray into the Champions League knockout rounds two years ago.
The high-scoring Parisians reached the knockout stages with a game to spare, thanks in part to talismanic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has eight goals in five Champions League appearances this season.
Despite winning 10 domestic championships with six different teams, the Swedish forward has never won the Champions League. “If we continue like this, we’ll reach our objectives for the season,” Ibrahimovic said.
AC MILAN vs. ATLETICO MADRID
AC Milan coach Clarence Seedorf may be new to management but he knows a thing or two about the Champions League.
The Dutchman lifted the trophy the last time Milan won the competition, in 2007, and is the only player to have won the Champions League with three different clubs – Ajax, Real Madrid and Milan twice.
“I’m very proud of this achievement,” Seedorf said. “The Champions League is an incredible tournament where all the best players and best clubs perform. Being able to have this record is a great satisfaction.” The 37-year-old Seedorf replaced Massimiliano Allegri last month.
Atletico Madrid go into the game with a share of the Spanish League lead with Barcelona and Real Madrid after a 3-0 win over Valladolid at the weekend.