MANCHESTER City playmaker Samir Nasri believes this year’s Champions League clash with Barcelona could be “totally different” from 12 months ago.
Nasri felt the Premier League winners paid too much respect to the four-time European champions when they met in the last 16 of the elite competition a year ago. Barca won 4-1 on aggregate, but City have a swift chance for revenge having been paired with the Catalan giants at the same stage for a second successive season.
Having come through a tough group phase in dramatic circumstances, Nasri now believes City are a much tougher proposition than they were 12 months ago. The Frenchman, speaking at City’s pre-match press conference, said: “I think we respected them too much but, at the same time, last year didn’t have enough experience to compete with a club like this, with its history. They know how to deal with this kind of game. They know how to win the Champions League.
“For us it was the first time that we went through the group stage. I think it was just too much of a big game for us. We were not ready. But I think this year is totally different. We know what we are capable of. We are going to respect them as players but we are not going to be scared.”
Like last year, City host the first leg, with star-studded Barca at the Etihad Stadium tonight.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini adopted an uncharacteristically defensive approach last time and the move backfired with the Spanish side running out 2-0 winners after the sending off of Martin Demichelis. They completed the job with a 2-1 win at the Nou Camp in a clash that saw City have another man dismissed in Pablo Zabaleta. City overcame the disappointment by going on to win the Premier League but while Nasri is hopeful of an improved showing this time, he insists revenge is not the prime motivating factor.
He said: “No, we want to beat Barcelona because we want to go as far as possible in the Champions League, not because we want revenge. For us it is a different game. We are a better team, physically, than last year. Last year before the first game we had a couple of players injured.
“Everything will be different. We have more experience about this competition than last year. It is just a matter of winning the game, not about revenge.”
Nasri was one of the stars as City salvaged this season’s Champions League campaign with dramatic back-to-back wins over Bayern Munich and Roma.
City had looked to be heading out after collecting just two points from four games but Sergio Aguero changed the picture with a sensational hat-trick against the Germans.
Nasri was then on target as City completed their rescue act to win 2-0 in Rome without stars Aguero, Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany. Prior to those results there had been an apparent indifference from City fans towards the Champions League but Nasri is hopeful that situation is changing. He said: “We have had a lot of success in the Premier League, so the fans are really passionate about that. In the Champions League we need to create our history to have a special relationship with the fans. A game like Barcelona can be a big victory between us and the fans in the competition.”
Pellegrini also believes City are in a better position to beat Barcelona than they were a year ago. The Chilean courted controversy himself after the first leg 12 months ago when he raged at referee Jonas Eriksson over perceived injustices. Pellegrini said: “I think that last year was different to this year. We arrived at this stage of the Champions League after playing 19 games in two months, and I don’t think it was our best moment. But I hope this year we will do it after not playing so many games. I think that our team is in a good moment, although we also recognise we are going to be playing against a very strong team.”
City must again make do without Toure as he completes his three-match ban for his dismissal against CSKA Moscow in November. James Milner is available after overcoming the knee injury that kept him out of Saturday’s 5-0 win over Newcastle.
Barcelona arrive in Manchester after a shock 1-0 home defeat against Malaga, but coach Luis Enrique has a fully fit squad at his disposal. Xavi could get a start after missing the loss to Malaga but his spot in midfield may again go to Ivan Rakitic, who went on as a second-half substitute on Saturday. Javier Mascherano will likely return , while Luis Suarez will make his first appearance in England since his move from Liverpool.