There is no doubt as to the game of the week on Matchday 3 in the UEFA Champions League; the return of Pep Guardiola to the Nou Camp, this time as the coach of Manchester City. If anyone knows the Barca style, it is their old coach and player, but stopping the mighty Blaugrana is another matter entirely.
It has not been vintage stuff from Luis Enrique’s men to date this campaign, but that is not to say Barca have been disappointing; they currently sit third in La Liga, two points behind leaders Atletico Madrid, and have won both their opening Group C fixtures in the Champions League, including knocking seven past a hapless Celtic. Yet two La Liga defeats already, 1-2 at home against Alaves, and 4-3 away at Celta Vigo, points to a susceptibility that has perhaps not been apparent in recent seasons – a symptom of the number of new faces in this season’s squad, an ageing defence, and an injury-plagued campaign for Lionel Messi perhaps? There are, of course, many positives to consider. Barca’s heralded front three of Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar already have 15 La Liga goals between them, and a further six in the Champions League, and other players such as Rafinha and Arda Turan have also chipped in with a few goals to share the burden. And though the season is still young, the Catalan giants already have one trophy to their name (the Spanish Super Copa).
Pep Guardiola’s perfect start at City couldn’t last forever, and so it has proven with his side now in the midst of a three-game winless run which included a draw in the Champions League at Celtic, and a first defeat of the season at the hands of Tottenham in the Premier League. Hardly a disaster following eight consecutive wins in all competitions, but a reality check nonetheless for a side and a boss who have only been in each other’s company for a matter of weeks. In fact, it was a surprise to many how quickly the City players, most notably the likes of Raheem Sterling and Fernandinho, had adapted to Guardiola’s style, and so a dip in form was inevitable in what will be a steep learning curve under the Barca legend’s stewardship. Losing Kevin De Bruyne for a few weeks with a hamstring injury was a big loss as the Belgian has been this campaign’s stand-out performer, but if City had been able to put away all their penalties (they missed two against Everton at the weekend), an already positive season could look just that bit better. However, top of the Premier League and settling in well to life under a new boss constitutes success so far for last season’s Champions League semi-finalists.
Head-to-head and team news
Head-to-head Barcelona have a been the scourge of City in recent Champions League seasons, knocking the English side out in the Round of 16 in both 2013/14 and 2014/15. Barcelona won all four of their matches against City in those pair of two-legged encounters, scoring seven times to Manchester City’s two. Both Messi and Suarez have scored twice against the Citizens, while Ivan Rakitic got the winner at the Nou Camp the last time the two sides met in March 2015.
For the home side, fullbacks Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto could return after both missing the last two matches with ankle and abductor injuries. For City, Sergio Aguero will be fit to start after coming on off the bench against Everton due to the miles he had clocked up playing for Argentina, but Bacary Sagna and Fabian Delph miss out with hamstring and muscle injuries respectively.
Barcelona 1.53, Draw 4.75, Manchester City 6.00
All odds courtesy of bet365 and correct as of 14:00 GMT on 17/10/16
By: Steve Paget