Belfast Telegraph

Man City pepped up for Barca Champions League clash in Barcelona tonight

Man City v Barcelona, Champions League: Etihad Stadium, Tonight, 7.45pm

By Ian Herbert

Pep Guardiola winked and offered a fleeting smile to one of the Spanish contingent when, at the end of his press conference, he had flat-batted the question of whether it would be difficult to face the team he had "said publicly" he supported.

"No. No," he'd said to that idea. The look on his face suggested otherwise.

It's not the man's emotional investment in the Catalan side which will be the problem tonight, but the size of the football task.

One of the points Guardiola was keen to stress yesterday was the often forgotten significance of which team might "provoke mistakes" in the other at the Etihad, when his present and former clubs meet.

City's lack of a first choice goalkeeper and a recognised right-back make the prospect of Barcelona doing the provoking all the greater.

This scenario would not have formed part of Guardiola's mental landscape of being City manager before he arrived this summer but it is what it is.

The heavy defeat in the Nou Camp was disappointing. Something similar at the Etihad would be embarrassing, telegraphing to the world that Guardiola certainly doesn't walk on water and that the City challenge is his biggest yet.

The 45-year-old could not have done more to embed himself in that challenge.

While Jose Mourinho's semi-detached Manchester existence includes residence in the five-star Lowry Hotel, with a chauffeur-driven shuttle back to London at the first available opportunity, Guardiola has already purchased his own city centre apartment and even his choice of golf course is genuinely local. He has been playing in the east Manchester district of Audenshaw, near the Etihad, which many of the wealthy football elite would not touch with a bargepole.

But embedding a style of football is a different proposition entirely. City's first choice defence is unequal to the attacking triumvirate Luis Enrique's side will bring, let alone that makeshift one he will be pulling together. And then there is the bold decision he has taken to tackle what he sees as a Sergio Aguero problem immediately, rather than build a foundation and broach such a thorny subject later.

Few predicted Guardiola's perception of Aguero as a player in need of improvement, though he did not desist from tackling that subject once again yesterday.

He was asked whether the centre forward Barcelona are bringing to Manchester tonight has "what you want from Sergio", prompting an answer which will not make edifying reading for the Argentine.

"What I want from Aguero is to achieve his huge qualities as much as possible," he said.

"I can't ask from Sergio what Luis Suarez does - I can't. It would be unfair. I know the qualities of the players and I have to develop his quality and mentality. That's what I want."

It should be said that the 4-0 scoreline in Catalonia two weeks ago obscured the fact that City played well for nearly an hour, before Claudio Bravo was dismissed and the 10-man side perished.

Guardiola agreed that the team could take consolation from this, though he did not make too much of the consolation.

"Yeah, we would like to play many things like we did in the first hour but every game is different," he said. "I would like to play in a good level as much as possible - 90 minutes would be perfect."

The overall impression was of a manager who feels there is a chasm between tonight's opponents and his own side. "In three months it is impossible to get to the level," he said. "Not (just) here but anywhere in the world.

"(But) I've never thought we can't win a football match."

Belfast Telegraph


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