Manchester City insist they are confident of beating Barcelona after being pitted against the Catalan side in an eye-catching Champions League draw that also paired Arsenal with the holders, Bayern Munich.
The other two English sides have, on the face of it, easier draws for the first knockout round, with Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea facing their former striker Didier Drogba’s Galatasaray, while David Moyes’ Manchester United take on Greek champions Olympiacos.
City may have paid a steep price for failing to top their group but in the build-up to the draw at Uefa headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, they were the one team that Barcelona had been keen to avoid – the local sports daily El Mundo Deportivo’s front page had stated simply “El City, No!”
City manager Manuel Pellegrini famously made a mathematical error in the final group match, not realising that one more goal at Bayern would have taken his side to the top of the group and be seeded for the draw, but City’s director of football Txiki Begiristain – formerly of Barcelona – said the team is brimming with confidence.
Begiristain told the club’s website: “I think it will be a great match. Ours is a team with a lot of confidence especially after winning against the champions in Munich – that will give us a lot of confidence. Not just at home but away as well.
“We are showing that we can score in all matches. This is important in the Champions League. We scored in Plzen, in Moscow, in Munich – it should give us confidence to play against a team who have been champions many times.
“Our manager knows perfectly Barcelona because he managed in Spain for a long time. In this sense, we are confident.”
Begiristain said the text messages “will be flying” between Argentina team-mates Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero, and added: “If you want to win the Champions League you have to beat the biggest teams. Barcelona are one of the biggest teams.”
Arsenal beat Bayern 2-0 in Munich at the same stage last season but went out on away goals – the German side having won 3-1 at the Emirates.
Arsenal now have German international playmaker Mesut Ozil in their ranks and Bayern defender Jerome Boateng admitted: “They’re the toughest opponents we could have had. They’ll be totally up for it after what happened last year. Both matches will be very intense.”
Drogba said he was relishing his match against Chelsea, having scored the equaliser then the winning penalty against Bayern Munich to win the competition in 2012. “What a draw…I’m the luckiest man in this competition,” he said. “In both games I’ll be playing home!”
Chelsea midfielder Juan Mata told the official Chelsea website: “Didier was a legend here. I guess that he would be very excited about coming back.”
In other matches, Real Mad-rid face German opposition in Schalke 04, last year’s runners-up Borussia Dortmund take on Zenit St Petersburg, AC Milan will play in-form Spanish side Atletico Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen face Paris Saint-Germain.
John Alexander, Manchester United’s club secretary, said the Premier League champions’ straightforward draw highlighted how important it had been to win their group. He told uefa.com: “If you look at the ties Arsenal and City got, that shows why you have got to win the group. Whoever came out of the pot would have been a good one to draw.”
The first legs will be played on 18-19 and 25-26 February, with the return matches set for 11-12 and 18-19 March.