It seemed destined for a number of reasons and today became a reality. Manchester City, the club that clawed its way back from the third tier to the top flight before striking gold, will play the mighty FC Barcelona in the Champions League round of 16.
There are so many sub-plots in this fixture. Yaya Toure will, for the first time, square off against the team he left for City in 2010. City CEO Ferran Soriano and director of football Txiki Begiristain will be reunited with the club whose dynasty they played a crucial role in building. Sergio Aguero and Pablo Zabaleta will go up against their close friend Lionel Messi.
Relations between City and Barcelona at board level are not good. There are bad feelings between City’s ex-Barca contingent and Barca president Sandro Rosell in particular, with Rosell speaking out about City’s “offensive approaches” last year. More on the strained relations can be found in this recent guest article.
Any off-field issues will be forgotten when the Pride of Manchester and Pride of Catalonia do battle over two legs – the first at the Etihad Stadium on February 18 and the second at Camp Nou on March 12.
Aguero vs. Messi, Silva vs. Iniesta, Nasri vs. Neymar, Yaya vs. Busquets, Kompany vs. Pique! What a battle it could be and a chance for City to further make their mark in Europe.
These are the European nights we dreamed of, the occasions we thought impossible when we were suffering down the divisions and watching our neighbours collect trophy after trophy.
Pellegrini gives the impression of someone who is fearless and believes his team can achieve anything. And having beaten Bayern Munich and Arsenal in the same week, why not?
When asked about the draw today, the Chilean sounded confident of City’s chances:
“I think they will be very concerned also. Barcelona is not the team it was two years ago.
“It’s a beautiful game with two very good teams and we will see in February which team arrives in the best moment.
“The 16 teams that play in the last 16 are the best teams in Europe so Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid are for me exactly the same.”
Txiki Begiristain also chimed in when questioned by Sky Sports at the draw:
“We are happy because we’re here [last 16] and we’ll fight for the trophy.
“We scored in Plzen, we scored in Moscow, we scored in Munich. Now we have to score in Barcelona.
“I think the text messages will be flying between Barcelona and Manchester [between Aguero and Messi].”
Response from elsewhere was similar. City are starting to win the respect of Europe’s elite after two years of failure and calamity in the Champions League.
Txiki’s successor as Barcelona director of football, Andoni Zubizarreta, said:
“Going up against Yaya Toure again and Txiki Begiristain means the game has absolutely everything.
“For a long time if you thought about a big European game in Manchester you would think United but not anymore.”
Barcelona coach Tata Martino sounded wary of City and revealed his respect for fellow South American, Pellegrini:
“They are a team who find it easy to score – we’ll look to have a good tie and more importantly, win it.
“Maybe they would have preferred not to play against FC Barcelona. We have to ensure we go into February in good form.
“It will be interesting to play against a Pellegrini side as I think he is one of the best coaches in the world.”
Borussia Dortmund director of football Michael Zorc, who saw his team outplay City last season, seemed relieved to have avoided the much improved Blues:
“It is an interesting draw. Honestly, I am glad that we didn’t get Manchester City.”
PSG boss Laurent Blanc was another who wiped his brow in relief at avoiding City (and Arsenal):
“We avoided Manchester City and Arsenal, two scarecrows in the second hat.”
City and Barcelona have played six times in the past, all friendly matches. Unbelievably, City have won the last three despite a vastly inferior talent pool to Barca on each occasion.
June 2, 1952: Barcelona 5-1 Manchester City
May 8, 1957: Barcelona 3-2 Manchester City
November 11, 1974: Barcelona 3-2 Manchester City
August 15, 1986: Barcelona 1-1 Manchester City (City won 3-4 on penalties)
August 10, 2003: Manchester City 2-1 Barcelona (first ever game at the City of Manchester Stadium)
August 19, 2009: Barcelona 0-1 Manchester City
It wasn’t just the senior City players who discovered their next European opponents today.
City’s U19s, who qualified for the last 16 of the UEFA Youth League ahead of Bayern Munich, will play Atlético Madrid in the next round.
Having finished 2nd behind CSKA Moscow, City have to play away from home in what is just one winner-takes-all game.
Should City overcome the Group G winners, they will face the victor of Benfica vs. Austria Vienna in the last 8.
The newspapers reported this morning that it could be 6 weeks, so 4 weeks would be an improvement but sounds like the minimum amount of time he will be out.
A talent such as Aguero can only be missed, but City have fared well with him off the pitch this season, averaging over 3 goals per game in Kun’s absence.
The return to fitness of the talented Stevan Jovetic could help fill the void left by Aguero, as long as the Montenegrin can find form and stay fit.
Micah Richards also faces up to a month out of action with the latest in a long collection of muscle injuries for him. This leaves City short of cover at right-back, and Boyata or even Milner may have to cover.
After the euphoria of beating Bayern and Arsenal, and with the news of City vs. Barcelona, it’s easy to forget we have a game tomorrow night!
Over 4,000 City fans are expected to make the trip down to the King Power Stadium for the Capital One Cup game against Championship promotion hopefuls Leicester.
Leicester’s form has hit some hurdles lately with 2 wins, 2 losses and 1 draw in their last 5 games – but no wins in December so far.
The Foxes remain 3rd in the Championship, though, just 3 points behind leaders QPR.
Nigel Pearson has admitted he may have to rest some players with promotion being their priority, but defender Liam Moore says they will go all-out for the win and give 100% on their own turf.
Leicester have players with experience at the top level like Paul Konchesky, David Nugent and City academy graduate Kasper Schmeichel.
City will rest key players and Joe Hart will start in goal, but it isn’t known just how much Pellegrini will weaken his side with the Blues only three games from a Wembley final.
Jovetic is in the squad and could make his first appearance since getting injured against Newcastle in the last round of the same competition.
Young guns Marcos Lopes and John Guidetti were both subbed off during the U21s’ 2-0 win over West Brom at weekend, so may have a chance of playing some part.
Possible City starting XI vs. Leicester: Hart, Milner, Lescott, Boyata, Kolarov, Garcia, Rodwell, Navas, Lopes, Jovetic, Dzeko
As revealed back in November, City are set to sign the prodigious young forward who shone in Nigeria’s U17 World Cup winning campaign and was voted player of the tournament.
Such is the talent of the 17-year-old, he has been training with Nigeria’s senior team and could force his way on to the flight to the 2014 World Cup!
One possible obstacle for City in closing this deal is a work permit, but they will attempt to get one on the “special talent” rule.
Another exciting youth talent for City after the signing of Brahim, who turned out for City’s U15s team last week.
And as revealed on Friday, City have beaten United and Arsenal to the signing of 15-year-old goalkeeper Kjetil Haug.
City could be set to miss out on long-time target Kurt Zouma unless they improve their offer.
The 19-year-old St. Etienne defender is one of the best young prospects Europe and City lodged an £11m bid for him in October.
But now a rival Premier League side have trumped City’s bid and City’s chiefs have to decide whether to respond…
Check out our exclusive from this morning for more details.
Finally – is this City’s home shirt for next season?
Footyheadlines.com reckons it is and shirts for the following season have been known to leak early.
What do you think?