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Barcelona are facing a world-class side: Martino

By Paul Hirst

Gerardo Martino claims Manchester City are no clone of his Barcelona side – but simply one of the best teams in the world.

Barca have arrived in Manchester ahead of the first leg of their eagerly-anticipated Champions League last-16 tie against the ambitious Barclays Premier League outfit.

Quadruple-chasing City have earned widespread plaudits for their attractive, attacking football under Manuel Pellegrini this season, a lot of which has earned comparisons with the great Barcelona sides of recent years.

Martino would not be drawn on that matter as he met media ahead of the game, warning that City are just a fine side in their own right.

The Argentinian said: "I don't think City are a mini-Barcelona or a mini any team. I think they are one of the greatest teams in the world.

"They have great Spanish players like (Jesus) Navas and (David) Silva, but it is not only Spanish players. They have great players from all over the world like (Yaya) Toure, (Sergio) Aguero and Fernandinho."

For a team that has grown used to success in recent times, with three Champions League wins since 2006, elimination at this stage would be unthinkable for Barcelona.

Martino is well aware how badly defeat would be received but he feels the task could hardly be much tougher.

He said: "For the last six seasons Barcelona have made it to the semi-finals and the fans are used to that.

"It will be difficult to understand if we don't go through but it is the tightest tie of all."

With City having been devastating in attack on occasions this season, Martino's plan to combat them is relatively simple – keep hold of the ball.

He said: "The thing to do for us is to keep possession. City have a very similar game to us, maybe a bit more direct but they are very good in possession. I think the team with less possession of the ball will suffer most."

When asked what his side's 'plan B' might be should City dominate possession, he said: "Obviously to take the ball away from them. If we don't have the ball, it is just pointless to come to this game."

Barcelona's former Manchester United defender Gerard Pique is also well aware of the danger City pose.

City's top scorer Aguero is out injured but with Alvaro Negredo, Pique's Spain international team-mate, set to start, the front line remains fearsome.

Pique said: "Negredo is an exceptional player, he has had an amazing season but it is not only him, it is Yaya, Silva and Navas, they can all score goals and we have to be very aware of set-pieces and defend them well."

Barcelona appear to have lost some of the aura they possessed when they won the competition in 2009 and 2011.

The club have also been mired in controversy this season with some speculation surrounding the terms of their record deal for Neymar last summer.

Pique, 27, said: "The only way we have to speak is on the pitch.

"All we can do is play on the pitch and show the world that we can still be the best and try and play a great game against a great team like Man City."

Brazil star Neymar scored on his return from an ankle injury in the 6-0 win over Rayo Vallecano on Saturday but Martino would not reveal whether he would start against City.

Belfast Telegraph


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