Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Manchester City must prove they belong in the big league

Manchester City players train ahead of the massive clash with Barcelona at the Etihad tonight
Manchester City players train ahead of the massive clash with Barcelona at the Etihad tonight

Manchester City will break new ground tonight. Come 7.45pm at the Etihad Stadium they will face the mighty Barcelona in a competitive fixture for the first time in their history.

Manchester United have taken on the Catalan giants countless times, including twice in Champions League finals, Chelsea have also mixed it with the Nou Camp aristocrats. Arsenal and Liverpool too. You can add Newcastle, Leeds, Spurs, Aston Villa, Nottingham Forest and Ipswich to the list. And would you believe Sheffield Wednesday, Wolves and Birmingham?

But never Manchester City.

Some might say that's because European draws haven't paired the sides together. The real reason is that City have rarely been in the hat.

This is only the 13th season that they've played European football. Barcelona have been involved in European competition in EVERY campaign since 1955!

Get the picture?

In that time Barca have played in 17 European finals, winning four European Cups, four Cup Winners Cups, three Fairs Cups and two European Super Cups. City have one European Cup Winners Cup in their trophy cabinet from 1970.

Yesterday, City boss Manuel Pellegrini bullishly declared his club were bigger than Manchester United right now. Better, yes, but "bigger"? I doubt that will ever be the case.

And in comparison to Barcelona's pedigree and prestige on the footballing planet they are light years behind.

That's why tonight's Champions League clash is so important to City – it is their chance to start making a mark on the world stage.

Once Shiekh Mansour bought the club in 2008 and started ploughing his billions into bringing brilliant players to the blue half of Manchester, like Chelsea with Roman Abramovich, it was only a matter of time before they would reach the top domestically, winning the Premier League in dramatic fashion in 2012, but their exploits in Europe have so far amounted to one failure after another.

Tonight, for all the investment, will be their first last 16 match in the Champions League.

It's about time they made a statement and who better to do it against than brilliant, breathtaking Barcelona who will include the best player of all time in Lionel Messi and genuine world-class performers Xavi and Iniesta.

Throw in Cesc Fabregas, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Daniel Alves, Sergio Busquets and Neymar and let's face it, the City fans will be turning up to gaze at their opponents in the flesh as much as cheer on their own heroes.

And they are entitled to given the loyalty they have shown down the years, in particular the 1998-99 season when United were winning the treble and City fans were experiencing life in League One.

They played Bournemouth and Bristol Rovers then. Now it's Barcelona.

Pellegrini is disappointed he's missing Messi's mate, the awesome Argentine Sergio Aguero, through injury, but on the upside Fernandinho is fit and should operate alongside ex-Barca star Yaya Toure in midfield. That's vital in stopping the supply to Messi.

Also crucial will be captain and defensive rock Vincent Kompany, while the pace of Jesus Navas, poise of David Silva and power of Alvaro Negredo in attack can worry the visitors.

Expect goals at both ends in a mouthwatering contest.

Barcelona are used to this. For Pellegrini's players it's a monumental night.

City are in the big league now and must show they belong.

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