STUNG by a chastening 4-0 defeat at Camp Nou two weeks ago, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola makes a second attempt to outwit his former club Barcelona on Tuesday.
Guardiola’s men were undone by the second-half dismissal of goalkeeper Claudio Bravo on October 19, when Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick to propel his side five points clear of City at the Group C summit.
Another defeat would give Borussia Moenchengladbach and Celtic an opportunity to overtake City and Guardiola knows his side face a major test of their nerve at the Etihad Stadium.
“We have to be focused for 90 minutes, knowing they are going to provoke our mistakes because of the quality they have,” said Guardiola, who led Barcelona to European glory in 2009 and 2011.
“Barcelona provoke your mistakes. But we had a few chances and have to keep going in that sense and try to finish better than we did in Barcelona.
“We will try. We will try it again. I’ve never thought we could not win. I have never entered a match thinking we can’t win.
“We have to play almost perfectly to win, but if not we congratulate them and set our minds on the game against Celtic and in Moenchengladbach in a few weeks.”
After a run of six games without victory — the longest of Guardiola’s coaching career — City blew off the cobwebs with a 4-0 win at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday that kept them top of the Premier League.
Having scored twice and made a goal for Ilkay Gundogan, striker Sergio Aguero is expected to keep his place in the starting XI, after being dropped for the trip to Barcelona.
With Barcelona old boy Bravo suspended, Willy Caballero is due to deputise between the posts.
Bacary Sagna (hamstring) and Fabian Delph (muscle) are the only expected absentees for City, who reached the Champions League semi-finals for the first time under Manuel Pellegrini last season.
Barcelona are aiming for a sixth successive victory over City, who they eliminated from the Champions League in both 2013-14 and 2014-15.
TURAN FITNESS CHECK
Luis Enrique’s side, European champions for a fifth time in 2015, require just a point to reach the last 16 and will be assured of first place if they win and Gladbach do not prevail at home to Celtic.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for us to qualify,” said the Barcelona coach.Advertisement
“Obviously it won’t be easy. We want to be first in the group. We will have to play very well, as we did in Camp Nou, with and without the ball.
“It’s difficult against a team like City, who know how to occupy space in the right way and don’t like losing the ball. We’ll have to play at our top, top level.”
Barca are currently on a four-game winning streak, but they arrived in Manchester on Monday with a depleted squad.
With Gerard Pique (ankle) and Jordi Alba (hamstring) absent, as well as Aleix Vidal (thigh), they are missing two first-choice defenders, while captain Andres Iniesta (knee) is also out.
Jeremy Mathieu, a potential option at centre-back, is nursing a calf problem, but his first-leg dismissal means he is suspended in any case.
French defenders Samuel Umtiti and Lucas Digne are due to fill in for Pique and Alba, with Arda Turan, Rafinha, Denis Suarez and Andre Gomes vying for the right to take Iniesta’s place in midfield.
Luis Enrique said Turan’s fitness would be tested in the final pre-match training session after the Turkey captain sat out the 1-0 victory over Granada at the weekend with an ankle injury.
Asked what changes in Iniesta’s absence, midfield colleague Ivan Rakitic said: “A lot changes. He’s a unique player.
“Whoever plays in that position tomorrow (Tuesday), we’ll have to be together and help that player.”