Manchester City go into the home game tonight knowing that, after Chelsea’s stumbling draw at the Hawthorns, unless Arsenal beat Manchester United, a win would take them back to the top of the pile ahead of the break in league action for the FA Cup. After their humbling against Chelsea, and stumbling against Norwich, it’s the sort of restorative action that every club needs. Omens for their upcoming Champions’ League tie against Barcelona however appear less portentious.
With the first leg to be played at the Etihad on Tuesday, City have already stated that it is highly likely that Sergio Aguero will be unavailable, and severe doubts remain about Fernandinho and Samir Nasri. The home team will therefore most likely be under-strength. The same cannot however be said to be likely for their Catalan opponents.
Brazilian starlet Neymar appears to be winning his race to recover from ankle injury that has side-lined him since the La Liga tussle with Getafe in mid January, and had been rated as doubtful for the Etihad clash. An earlier than expected return to training however has lifted both spirits and expectations of his availability. So confident is Barca manager Tata Martino, that he has included Neymar in his squad for the trip to San Sebastian to face a Copa del Rey game against Real Sociedad, apparently despite the club’s medical staff not having yet officially signed him off as available.
It’s quite likely that the trip will merely be to include Neymar in the normal game preparation and he is unlikely to play against the Basques with a more likely comeback date being the weekend game against Rayo Vallecano.
With Messi increasing his ‘match fitness’ after a returning from a long lay-off, Barcelona appear likely to be at virtually full strength for the Etihad game. What was always going to be a difficult tie is now looking like a severe test for Manuel Pellegrini’s team.
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