Navas confident City can stop Barcelona and Messi
Pellegrini’s fluid 116-goal machine facing the aristocrats of Europe
Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona
Jesus Navas is bullish about the arrival of Barcelona and the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Xavi for tomorrow’s Champions League meeting with Manchester City.
“I reckon they won’t be happy having to come here,” he says. “They will find we are a really difficult team to play against and to beat. We are playing very well, creating chances scoring a lot of goals.
“We are full of confidence. The one thing we must do is play with high pressure and high tempo because they have some top-quality players.”
The standout tie of the last-16 stage pits Manuel Pellegrini’s fluid 116-goal machine against the aristocrats of the continent, a Barcelona outfit that has won two European Cups since 2009, boasts the four-times world player of the year in Messi, and the game’s new superstar, Neymar, who arrived in a €57 million transfer from Santos last summer.
Yet the sense that the Catalan club is not quite the force it was is not discounted by Navas, who before his €18 million move from Sevilla to City in June spent a decade playing against Barcelona.
“Maybe they don’t play as well as three or four years ago, but that is normal – the rivals study the way you play and find a tactic to counteract your strengths. The cycles in football don’t last forever. It’s hard to say because they set the standards so high in the past,” says the 28-year-old.
“It is very, very difficult to keep playing with that kind of style year in and year out. But, that said, they are top of La Liga and they are in the final of the Copa del Rey. It is always difficult to face Barcelona, they always have top-quality players. I remember playing so many times when I was at Seville. We knocked them out of the Copa del Rey once, so that’s my main memory. I scored a header against them at home when we drew 1-1.”
City’s high-tempo attack is not dissimilar to Barcelona’s. Yet it came unstuck in the 3-1 defeat handed them by Bayern Munich on their home patch during the group stage.
Navas dismisses this. “That wasn’t one of our best performances,” he says. “They scored very early on and that made things very difficult for us, although you have to bear in mind that in Munich [in the return match] we played very well after going behind and won [3-2]playing our own style of football. So I am confident we can beat Barcelona at home.” Of the how-to-halt-Messi conundrum, Navas says: “He is very difficult to stop. You have to put pressure on him, make sure you are close to him when he gets the ball and not let him create space.”
While the 26-goal Sergio Aguero should be ruled out due to a hamstring injury, City have another 26-goal man, Alvaro Negredo. The Spaniard’s muscle and pace should pose Barca a different kind of problem. Navas warned that the contest with Barcelona will not be straightforward. “The tie will not be decided on Tuesday, but in Barcelona [in the second leg],” Navas says. “It is 180 minutes. We have to put pressure on them, maintain the concentration at all times and take the chances.”