City v Barca: The Key Battles

Martín Demichelis is dribbled past more than any other PL centre-half, so Lionel Messi will fancy running at him. Plus Toure v Busquets and Sanchez v Kolarov...

Last Updated: 18/02/14 at 19:04 Post Comment

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Barcelona advertised their supremacy over upcoming Champions League opponents Manchester City on Sunday with an infographic on their website that might well have been an attempt to unsettle the team they will face on Tuesday night.

Barcelona's history makes them huge favourites for the match; they have been there before and will not get overawed by the occasion, while City have failed in their previous two campaigns on Europe's grandest stage.

The graphic contains tallies of previous honours, stadium capacities and social media influence. In each category the Catalonian club dwarves the nouveaux-riche Manchester side.

In terms of current performance, however, there isn't all that much between the teams. City are three points off top spot in the Premier League (with a game in hand) having scored 68 goals in 25 games, and have already won at Bayern Munich in the Champions League, in a group stage in which they obtained 15 points.

Barça, meanwhile, are second in La Liga to Atlético and ahead of Real Madrid only courtesy of their head-to-head record. In the Champions League, they won a tough group but slipped up at Ajax and an under-performing Milan.

There is certainly hope for City, particularly at the Etihad Stadium, and here we look at some of the key battles ahead of the clash.

Lionel Messi vs Vincent Kompany & Martín Demichelis
We all know Lionel Messi is pretty darn good, and his input will be as important as ever when Barcelona travel to Manchester. Generally speaking - and unsurprisingly - the side play better when he performs, and the space he is afforded could make all the difference.

Roaming free, Messi will drop deep to pick up possession, and marking duties will be passed on to City's midfielders as he does that. It will be interesting to see, however, how he fares when up front against Vincent Kompany and his likely partner at the back, Martín Demichelis.

Kompany is undeniably one of the best central defenders in the world, but his biggest assets - his strength and ability in the air - won't be tested much by Barcelona's tika-taka. Fleet-footed Messi will instead look to pass or dribble his way past the defence, having completed 3.3 dribbles per game in the Champions League group stages.

Kompany has only played twice for City in the competition, but was dribbled past on only one occasion. Having been beaten 0.8 times, on average, per appearance in the Premier League this season, he could prove a challenge for the Argentine.

However, in Luis Suárez, Liverpool have arguably the closest thing the English league has to Messi, and he beat the Belgian defender twice when he visited the Etihad. He might have failed to score, but maybe that is just the difference between him and Messi; the four-time world player of the year won't need asking twice.

Things could be even worse for Demichelis, whose turn of pace is probably his biggest weakness. Dribbled past more times per game (1.4) than any other centre-back in the Premier League, if Messi gets him one-on-one, there could be real trouble for City.

Yaya Touré vs Sergio Busquets
Yaya Touré has come in for some criticism of late, primarily for a propensity to wander upfield and leave gaps in City's midfield. His defenders have said that up against Barcelona he won't make such absent-minded mistakes, but Manuel Pellegrini's side probably need to score here to stand a chance of progressing, and Touré will be vital going forwards.

The Ivorian is the fourth highest goalscorer in the Premier League this season and his lung-busting bursts could catch a comparatively less-pacy Barcelona midfield unawares.

Sergio Busquets, the man whose growing presence in the squad ultimately spelt the end of Touré's time at Barcelona, could thus come to blows with him in this clash.

Touré has averaged 1.8 shots per game in the Champions League this season, and while Busquets doesn't block many shots, his tallies for tackles (2) and interceptions (2.4) per game could see him thwart Touré before he gets a chance to shoot.

What is more, with an exemplary 94.5% pass completion rate, he will look to distribute quickly upfield for the likes of Xavi, Andrés Iniesta and co. to exploit any gaps that might be left.

Alexis Sánchez vs Aleksandar Kolarov
Alexis struggled to live up to expectations at Barcelona after a big-money move from Udinese but has proven that if he had underwhelmed at first, it was little more than a slow start.

The Chilean has six goals and five assists in his last seven appearances for Barcelona, and is capable with both feet and thus able to go round the outside down the line or cut infield.

Only Cristiano Ronaldo and Diego Costa have scored more goals in La Liga this season, while Sanchez also ranks just outside the top ten for assists.

Kolarov is a very one-footed player, and may be uncomfortable tracking back against a quick player that is comfortable going either way. The Serb is a fantastic attacking threat, though, and with Sanchez's defensive contribution a statistically calculated weakness of his on WhoScored.com, there is certainly the opportunity for Kolarov to get forward and test the defensive shortcomings of right-back Dani Alves.

While Sanchez's domestic season has been such a roaring success, he is yet to score and has only one assist in the Champions League thus far and arguably struggles on the biggest stage.

Likely to be up against Kolarov, who has started four of City's six Champions League games, this could be one of the most interesting battles on show.

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