City ‘confident’ despite Barcelona draw in Champions League
Barca expecting ‘very hard match as Manchester City are a very tough team’
Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini will have to plan for a Champions League meeting with Barcelona. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire
Manchester City’s reward for securing progress from their Champions League group is another meeting with Barcelona, who beat them last season, also in the knockout phase.
City’s sporting director, Txiki Begiristain, described the draw as “unbelievable”. The teams met at the same, last-16 stage last season, Barca prevailing 4-1 on aggregate.
Another of the English qualifiers, Chelsea, were also drawn against familiar opponents. The Premier League leaders have been paired with Paris Saint-Germain, whom they overcame in last season’s quarter-finals. The Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, will face his former club Monaco in what appears the most favourable of the ties awaiting English clubs.
Whereas José Mourinho and Wenger had expressed a wish before the draw in Nyon to meet those respective opponents from Ligue 1 City face the daunting prospect of taking on Barcelona again. They and their frontline of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez are due at the Etihad Stadium for the first leg on 24 February.
“It is unbelievable,” said Begiristain, a former Barcelona player and director. “We don’t need to talk because, every time, it is the same: Bayern Munich, AS Roma, CSKA Moscow in the group stage, and now Barcelona, who we also drew last season.
“We have plenty of confidence, though, because of beating Bayern, and Roma away, and we have players to recover and come back so we will arrive in a good moment. We have improved our squad since last season, we are more solid and stronger at the back. We have more confidence for this game.”
Manuel Pellegrini, who took unfancied Villarreal to the semi-finals of this competition in 2006 and Malaga to the last eight, will hope Sergio Agüero and Vincent Kompany have fully recovered from recent injuries to feature against Luis Enrique’s side, though Yaya Touré will miss the first leg in Manchester as he serves the third game of his ban for a dismissal against CSKA.
The Barca sporting vice-president, Jordi Mestre, said the tie would be “a very hard match as Manchester City are a very tough team to beat”.
PSG, still second by a point in France despite suffering their first league defeat of the season at the weekend, will pose another stern test for Chelsea despite Mourinho’s apparent eagerness to confront the club bankrolled by Qatar Sports Investments.
The Portuguese, whose team play Derby County todayon Tuesday in the quarter-finals of the Capital One Cup, had suggested his players would benefit from a game against high-calibre opposition when the competition resumes in February.
“I prefer a team that really motivates the boys so, if I could choose, I’d say Paris,” he said on Saturday. “But also to make it easy for everybody - easy for us to travel and easier for the fans to travel.”
The west London club will be reunited with their former centre-half David Luiz at Parc des Princes on February 17th. The Brazilian left Stamford Bridge for a fee of around €60m last summer. The defender was in the Chelsea team beaten 3-1 in Paris in last year’s quarter-final first leg, scoring an own goal, but Chelsea won 2-0 in the return game, with a decisive 87th-minute strike from Demba Ba, to progress on the away goals rule.
PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi welcomed the chance for revenge and suggested he was “very confident”.
“We learned a lot from the experience last year,” he said. “And we will be working hard to make sure there is a different outcome this time round.”
Despite the prospect of facing Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi, who was so impressive in last season’s tie, there is conviction at Chelsea that they are better equipped to triumph in the Champions League this season, having reached last season’s semi-finals.
“Last year we were close and we didn’t have the team playing at such a high level as we do this season, so we can dream we will do it,” said Mourinho. “But let’s see if the sharks let us because there are a few sharks in the ocean.”
Wenger will take Arsenal to Monaco, where he spent seven years as manager before leaving in 1994 having claimed one French league title and a French Cup and reached the Cup Winners’ Cup final, in 1992. Monaco currently languish sixth in Ligue 1, though they beat Marseille, the leaders, on Sunday and scored only four times to top Group C.
The draw was a relative relief for Arsenal given they played, and were eliminated by, Bayern Munich at this stage in the last two seasons. Arsenal have never met Monaco in a competitive fixture, though Radamel Falcao scored the only goal in a game at the pre-season Emirates Cup last summer.
The French club will be without their influential midfielder Jeremy Toulalan for the first leg in London through suspension and the Monaco manager, Leonardo Jardim, is realistic about his side’s prospects.
“Arsenal are a very good team,” he said. “They are used to this type of game and for that reason they are favourites in my eyes. They have lots of players of quality, like Olivier Giroud and Alexis Sanchez. But we’ll play to win as always.”
In the other ties Real Madrid will play Roberto Di Matteo’s Schalke while Bayern Munich face Shakhtar Donetsk.
“We are certainly favourites against Shakhtar,” said the Bayern chairman, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, “but we will go there with great respect in these games. This is definitely a new experience for us.”
Basel, who knocked Liverpool out at the group stage, play Porto, Juventus will take on Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen face Atletico Madrid, last season’s runners-up. Guardian Service