| Neymar, during a training session, on Tuesday |
Madrid: Sergio Aguero has a proven scoring record against Barcelona and the Manchester City forward may have a crucial role to play if his side are to upset the odds and reach the Champions League quarter finals for the first time.
City trail 0-2 ahead of Wednesday’s last 16, second leg at the Nou Camp, a Lionel Messi penalty and a late Daniel Alves goal in Manchester last month putting the Spanish champions on the brink of their seventh consecutive appearance in the last eight of Europe’s elite club competition.
City may never have a better chance of overturning a two-goal deficit against Barca than on Wednesday.
Barca have reached at least the final four of the competition in their last six attempts, lifting the trophy in 2009 and 2011. Yet the Catalan giants come into Wednesday’s match off the back of a surprise La Liga defeat to struggling Real Valladolid, which put a major dent in their domestic title ambitions. The defeat was Barca’s second in three La Liga games.
Having said that, City, too, are coming into this match on the back of a surprise defeat – losing to second tier Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup quarter final.
In a lopsided second match of the day, Bayer Leverkusen will resist the option of fielding a second-string team despite taking an almost insurmountable 0-4 deficit to Paris St Germain.
PSG have been in rampant form since their first-leg rout, netting nine goals in three Ligue 1 outings.
Laurent Blanc’s side have won their last five matches in all competitions. Led by talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic, they have scored 16 goals and conceded twice.
The Sweden striker already has 38 goals in all competitions this season – more than one-third of PSG’s tally (102).
Meanwhile, City manager Manuel Pellegrini will be forced to prepare for Wednesday’s match by delivering his final team-talk in a team hotel meeting room hours before the game.
After receiving a two-match touchline ban from Uefa as punishment for his criticism of Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson in the wake of the first-leg defeat, Pellegrini will be denied any access to his players once the squad arrives at the stadium on Wednesday.
As a result of the sanction, Pellegrini will decline to appear for the scheduled pre-match press conference at the Nou Camp, with assistant manager Ruben Cousillas or coach Brian Kidd due to field questions instead Aguero, who missed the first leg through injury but returned for City’s League Cup final victory on March 2, scored five goals in 10 La Liga games against Barca for Atletico Madrid between 2006 and 2011.
They included a dramatic winner, his second of the match, in a 4-3 success at the Calderon in the 2008-09 season that prompted the kind of wild celebrations he unleashed with the goal that sealed the Premier League title for City in 2012.
The player, known as “Kun” after a Japanese cartoon character, also netted a double in the same La Liga fixture a year earlier, a 4-2 win for Atletico.
However, he has never tasted victory at the Nou Camp though in six visits but did score in a 1-1 draw in 2006-07.
Pellegrini’s players will take heart from a fine performance in Germany in their last European away game when they came from two goals down to beat Group D rivals and defending champions Bayern Munich 3-2 with both teams already through to the last 16.
History is against them, however.
Only twice in Champions League history has a team recovered from a first-leg defeat at home to go through, Ajax Amsterdam achieving the feat in 1995-96 and Inter Milan following suit in 2010-11.
“As always in important games, the individual performance of players is key,” Pellegrini, who has labelled Aguero the third best player in the world behind his Argentina teammate Messi and Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo, said on the club’s website on Monday. (agencies)