Lionel Messi and Neymar, with a combined value of well over £200 million, couldn’t muster a single shot between them for Barcelona against Malaga in last weekend’s La Liga game at the Camp Nou.
Tomorrow, they will try their luck again at the Etihad Stadium in the last 16 of the Champions League, as Barca take on Manchester City for the second season running. City are in form after handing out a 5-0 beating to Newcastle United, but which tools are most useful to Barca coach Luis Enrique, as he aims to prevent them from reaching the quarter-finals for the first time in their history?
Ironically, considering their lacklustre shooting on Sunday, it is Messi and Neymar that average the most shots per game in Barca’s La Liga campaign this season (4.1) – the dangerous pair also average the most goals per game (1.1) of any Barca player. Messi’s ‘good shot’ ratio slightly shades that of his Brazilian teammate, 0.4 to 0.3.
How far down the pecking order is the third member of Barca’s attacking trio, Luis Suarez? The Uruguayan, who is more than familiar to City fans due to his time at Liverpool, has a goal-to-game ratio of 0.4 (in this definition – each game equates to a 96 mins block of playing time). Disappointing you might think. But the figure is put in an even worse light when we consider his chances per game – 6.9 compared to the 6.5 of Neymar and 5.3 of Messi.
Whether they both grace the Manchester grass remains to be seen, but Manuel Pellegrini should know that Xavi and Andres Iniesta are still the drivers of the Barcelona’s tika-taka style – Xavi is top average pass deliverer with 87.8 while Iniesta follows him with 77.6.
The midfield battle is what the game could hinge on, and despite having won every major prize the game has to offer, Xavi and Iniesta could have their work cut out. City’s Brazilian defensive midfielder Fernandino (5.4) averages highest in either squad for actions which regained possession.
Creatively, City have a lot to offer too. James Milner has proved a valuable member of the team this season, curling home a glorious free-kick to rescue a point in the recent game against Hull City. Milner’s crossing ability should also not be underestimated – his 28% ‘dangerous’ ratio is the highest of any City player with over 20 crosses to their name.
2014-15 is shaping up to be another prolific season for City’s Argentinian hitman Sergio Aguero, who already has 17 goals in all competitions. Aguero has scored all of his league goals from close-mid range, and Barca should be aware that his main supply lines this season have been from both David Silva and Milner, who reach him with an average of 3.8 passes per game.
Both sides have added to their artillery since their last meeting, but even considering Barca’s addition of Suarez, City will still be hoping for a vast improvement on the 2-0 home defeat which knocked them out of last season’s competition.