Nasri: Man City is ready for Barcelona this time
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Manchester City midfielder Samir Nasri tempered high praise for Lionel Messi by saying his team has shed its inferiority complex toward Barcelona and is ready for a landmark Champions League victory in their last-16 rematch.
Appearing in the knockout stage for the first time 12 months ago, City lost both legs to Barcelona — a four-time European champion — and was eliminated 4-1 on aggregate.
“I think we respected them too much. We weren’t experienced enough to compete with a club like this, that knows how to win a Champion League,” Nasri said Monday, speaking ahead of Tuesday’s first leg at City’s Etihad Stadium. “It was too much of a big game and we were not ready.
“This year is totally different. We know what we are capable of - we are not going to be scared.”
On a personal level, Nasri hopes it is fourth time lucky against Barcelona in the Champions League, having lost to the Spanish side with Arsenal in 2010 and 2011.
Nasri saw at first hand the havoc Messi can wreak on those three occasions, with the Argentina striker scoring eight times in six legs. He has scored 75 career goals in Europe’s top competition.
“I think Messi and (Cristiano) Ronaldo play in their own galaxy,” said Nasri, adding that City’s players are comparable to Barcelona’s other stars.
City has won the Premier League twice in the last three seasons, but has failed to translate its domestic dominance to the European stage. In three years in the Champions League, City twice failed to advance from its group before elimination in the last-16 last season.
City’s fans are yet to warm to Champions League, with a crowd of slightly more than 37,000 — 10,000 down on capacity — watching the opening group game against Roma. In the next home match, against CSKA Moscow, City did a “buy one, get one free” ticket offer to fill the stadium.
“We have a lot of success in the Premier League so the fans are really passionate about that,” Nasri said. “In the Champion League, we need to create our own history to have a special relationship with the fans. A game like Barcelona can be a big step.”
As well as having another season of Champions League experience behind them, another key difference for City, compared to last season, is that the team has a fully fit Sergio Aguero this time.
The Argentine striker missed the first leg last season with a hamstring injury and was rushed back for the return match, only to last 45 minutes. Twelve months on, Aguero is over a knee injury that kept him out in December and has scored three goals in his last two games.
“Sergio Aguero is one of the five top players in the world,” City manager Manuel Pellegrini said. “When he is 100 percent fit, it is very difficult to stop him. Last year, he couldn’t play the way he wanted to do it. Sergio is coming back from a long injury ... I think he is in his best performance.”
Aguero is a booking away from suspension in the Champions League.