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 quarterfinals for the first time.
City trail 2-0 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.
Aguero, who missed the first leg through injury but returned for City’s English Capital One (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.
He has never tasted victory at the Nou Camp though in six visits but did score in a 1-1 draw in 2006-07.
“As always in important games the individual performance of players is key,” City coach Manuel Pellegrini, who has labelled Aguero the third best player in the world behind his Argentina team mate Messi and Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo, said on the club’s website (www.mcfc.co.uk) on Monday.
“Of course it’s difficult,” added the Chilean. “But I don’t have any doubt that we are going to Barcelona thinking that we can do it, that we can beat them in Camp Nou and we will try to have our revenge there.”
Squaring off with history
Pellegrini also has experience of Barca’s daunting arena, Europe’s biggest stadium. He faced them 22 times during his La Liga coaching career but only managed four victories, most recently a 2-1 win for Villarreal at the Nou Camp in March 2008. He lost both “Clasicos” against Barca as Real coach in the 2009-10 season, 1-0 away and 2-0 at home.
“It’s difficult because they are a very good team with great players and that’s the most important thing,” Pellegrini said. “We will try to get the tempo we need to score goals. If we can score a goal early Barcelona may be more nervous.
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.
Both City and Barca are coming into the match after surprise defeats, Barca going down at lowly Real Valladolid and slipping to third in La Liga and City losing to second tier Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup quarter-finals.
“It was a strange game (at Valladolid), but we have to put it behind us now and not feel sorry for ourselves,” Barca’s Chile forward Alexis Sanchez said on Monday. “We have to be positive because we have an important game ahead.”
LAST TANGO IN PARIS
PARIS: Bayer Leverkusen will resist the option of fielding a second-string team despite taking an almost insurmountable 4-0 deficit to Paris St Germain on Wednesday for their Champions League last-16 second-leg.
“We cannot just throw this game away because otherwise we can go ahead and send the Under-23 team,” Leverkusen coach Sami Hyypia told reporters. “I am really looking forward to the game and every player should feel the same.”
The former Liverpool defender’s team have been struggling since the winter break, a German Cup exit to second division Kaiserslautern last month followed by three straight Bundesliga defeats.
Leverkusen are without midfielder Jens Hegeler who tore ankle ligaments in the 1-1 draw against Hanover 96 on Saturday and is out for the rest of the season.
PSG have been in rampant form since their first-leg rout, netting nine goals in three Ligue 1 outings.
Up against IBRA
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).
“We have many alternatives. When one player goes out, another comes in and it’s still the same rhythm, the same quality, and that is what a big team is about,” said Ibrahimovic.
PSG will have striker Edinson Cavani back after he spent time in Uruguay dealing with a personal issue.