Johannesburg - Pep Guardiola’s return with his Manchester City side to Nou Camp football stadium in Barcelona, Spain, to take on Barcelona, marks the standout match in the next round of play in the Champions League.
The Spanish coach, who won the showpiece of European club football twice with the Catalan club, has been given the task by the City owners to bring a first-ever Champions League trophy to Etihad Stadium in England.
Both teams are well placed to advance to the knockout stage from Group C, as they top the table with six points (Barcelona) and four points (City) respectively – well ahead of Celtic and Borussia Mönchengladbach, who face each other in Glasgow.
Guardiola has opted to stay in Manchester in the UK with his team for as long as possible and will skip the prematch training which they are entitled to in the Nou Camp.
Instead, he will only travel to Barcelona on the afternoon before the match.
He is hoping that inspirational midfielder Kevin De Bruyne will return from injury in time to make the trip to Spain and be ready for Wednesday’s game.
It will not be the first time Guardiola returns to Barcelona with another team. He did so with Bayern Munich two seasons ago in the semifinals. A 3-0 defeat in the first leg all but killed the tie, and a 3-2 win for the Germans in the return leg did nothing more than even the statistics.
Meanwhile, Guardiola’s Barcelona counterpart, Luis Enrique, is concerned that information about closed-door team meetings has been finding their way into the Spanish press.
Ahead of his team’s last Champions League match against Mönchengladbach, his set-piece plans were published.
He is enraged that somebody from his inner circle is speaking to the press, describing it as a “betrayal”.
The coach should be able to again call on superstar Lionel Messi, who has missed several of Barcelona’s last matches through injury, but seems in line for at least a place on the bench in his side’s league match on the weekend.
Bayern Munich, who are considered the second favourites behind Barcelona to lift the trophy, need to bounce back from a defeat at Atlético Madrid in their last match. The Bundesliga champions should have few problems in overcoming PSV Eindhoven at home, while Atlético play an away match against FC Rostov in Russia.
Bayern go into their game against the Dutch club, having failed to win their last two matches. But coach Carlo Ancelotti dismisses any talk of a crisis. “I do not feel any pressure. Every club has its own goals.
“We will bounce back and make it better. We do not need to create problems where there are none,” the Italian said.
In Group F, Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund are expected to battle for the top spot, but they could be challenged by Sporting Lisbon. The Portuguese side are playing at home against Dortmund and know they need to beat the Bundesliga team to stay in contention for a place in the knockout round.
Leicester, who sensationally won the Premier League last season, have managed to take that good form with them into the Champions. The Foxes have won two out of two and could well make it three as they take on Copenhagen.
A victory would see them have a comfortable lead at the top of the standings.
Arsenal’s long-standing coach, Arsène Wenger, sees his side topping Group A ahead of big-spending Paris St Germain. They play at home to Bulgarian outfit Ludogorets Razgrad on Wednesday.
He said the team had learnt from previous mistakes. “In recent years, we always came out of the group stage. Last year, let’s say, it was difficult because we made it difficult for ourselves.
“We have learnt that in the group stage it is not only important to qualify but, if possible, to qualify as top of the group.
“That gives you many more chances to go through,” the Frenchman said.
Although they have played only two matches, Napoli already have a four-point lead in Group B and could extend that with a win against Besiktas, who are on two points – four behind the Serie A side. Surprisingly, Portuguese giants Benfica are bottom of the group with just one point and need to beat Dynamo Kiev if they want to maintain their chances of making it into the round of the last 16.
Juventus face a daunting away trip to Lyon in Group H.