Barcelona’s players train at the Sports Center FC Barcelona Joan Gamper in Sant Joan Despi, near Barcelona yesterday, on the eve of the UEFA Champions League quarter-final second leg match against Manchester City.
MADRID: Barcelona host Manchester City in the second leg of their Champions League last 16 tie today desperately in need of a good performance to distract attention from a dreadful start to 2014 on and off the field.
When the Catalans were given the hardest draw open to them in a pairing with City back in December, it was a minor setback on what had until then been a season that had exceeded expectations. Despite being hastily appointed just two weeks before the campaign kicked off as Tito Vilanova was unfortunately forced to resign due to on-going health problems, coach Gerardo Martino oversaw Barca’s best ever start to a La Liga season.
Martino’s first defeat in charge came in the Champions League to a youthful Ajax side in November, but it mattered little as Barca also strolled through to the last 16 as winners of Group H.
However, this year has so far proved to be a more difficult time for the club. In January, Sandro Rosell resigned as president due to on-going legal action for misappropriation of funds over the controversial signing of Brazilian star Neymar last May.
Rosell had insisted the 22-year-old’s transfer had cost the club 57m euros ($79m, £47m), but the day after his departure Barcelona released figures showing the overall cost of the operation, including a signing bonus for the player, marketing deals and other collaborative agreements, amounted to 86.2m euros. The club were then charged with tax fraud over the transfer and paid 13.5m euros to the Spanish treasury despite protesting that they had not committed any offence. Those fiscal troubles have now been reflected in the Spanish champions’ performances on the field as Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to lowly Valladolid saw them lose for the third time in six La Liga games.
Meanwhile, Paris Saint-Germain cannot afford to let their concentration slip as they prepare for their last 16 second leg tie at home to Bayer Leverkusen today, their coach Laurent Blanc believes. The French champions stormed to a 4-0 success in Germany, leaving the tie as good as over ahead of the Parc des Princes clash.
Added to that, PSG are on a run of five straight victories, having plundered 16 goals in that period, while Leverkusen only ended a five-match losing streak in drawing 1-1 at Hanover 96 on Saturday. If form and precedence were taken into account, there would be no doubt this tie was already done and dusted -- no team has ever overturned a 4-0 first leg deficit in a Champions League knock-out tie -- but Blanc is not one to rest on his laurels.
“You always have to be demanding with your team,” said Blanc.
“In the Champions League, qualification is decided in the second match. For now, we don’t have it yet so we have to see through qualification.
“Whoever plays, we have the desire to win. That’s important because the biggest teams, even when going through difficult periods, they need to concentrate.”