The day I saw a homeless man trying to fight a squirrel with his own trousers taught me that life is all about the key battles. And so is football, particularly in this week’s vital Champions League tie between Barcelona and, in the role of a trouserless maniac shrieking death threats into the trees, Manchester City. But just what are the key scuffles that could leave one side (City, probably) weeping into a can of strong cider while a squirrel systematically sh*ts in each of their pockets.
Sergio Aguero vs Javier Mascherano
It’s a scientific fact that when two tiny, combative Argentineans come together it will generate enough electricity to power Diego Maradonna’s mobile disco bus for almost a full afternoon. Aguero is, to be blunt, City best/only hope of grabbing the two goals they need to progress to the next stages of a competition they have chucked roughly 30 billion pounds at.
City’s most reliable striker, Aguero has already bagged 6 goals in 5 Champions League games, including a campaign saving hatrick against a Bayern Munich side who, to be fair, had already qualified and were most likely thinking about some kind of aggressively over-sized Bavarian sausage.
In Mascherano though, Aguero faces a composed and ruthless defender, who marshalled Barca to 7 clean sheets in their first 7 games of the season. Admittedly, like the rest of the Barcelona defence, he went to jelly a bit during their 3-2 group stage loss to PSG – which could partially be blamed on the fact that Beyonce was in the crowd and he really didn’t want her to see him re-tear his strangely brittle anus.
Yaya Toure vs the space where Sergio Busquets used to be
Sergio Busquets, or Steve Biscuits as we ‘hilariously’ call him in my house, is Barcelona’s midfield regulator, sweeping up threats and depositing them in the properly marked recycling bins round the back of PC World car park.
But Biscuits (it’s funny, give it a chance) will not be playing which, in theory, will leave a huge hole for a huge Yaya Toure to crash through. That is of course, if we’re talking about the Yaya Toure who plundered 24 goals last season and looked an awful lot like the most devastating attacking midfielder in world football. What is more likely is that new and unimproved Yaya will turn up, with no goals since his return from the Africa Cup of Nations and as many Champions League red cards as he has goals.
Still, with City’s freakishly high dependence on his presence, and the fact that Barca’s midfield of Ivan Rakitic and Rafinha would sooner tea bag a chicken than make a clean tackle, this could be the best possible platform for Yaya Toure to earn himself a lovely big cake with the words ‘Yaya is loads better than Darius Vassell and Benjani’ iced across it.
Lionel Messi vs everyone
Apart from every bit of The Voice that doesn’t involve spinny chairs, there is nothing more boring than Lionel Messi stats. So rather than dwell too much on the news that he has scored 8 times in the Champions League already this season, and he’s scored 6 in the 4 games since he last faced City, we’ll instead concentrate on the fact that naughty old Titus Bramble has been dressing up as Vincent Kompany and causing the City defence to melt down faster than a Mini Milk trapped in your mum’s support tights.
In terms of goals conceded, they are not much worse off than last season, but this weekend’s defeat against Burnley served to underline some fundamental problems. Kompany is badly out of sorts while Martín Demichelis has rediscovered his talent for alternating between horribly slow and painfully rash tackling. And these two are keeping £30 million Eliaquim Mangala on the bench, making him the worst French thing to have been imported into the country since people started asking for mayonnaise with their dinner. Against this smashed turnip of a defence it’s almost impossible to see Messi and friends not doing the kind of mess that normally follows a foolhardy sauce upgrade in Nandos.
Luis Enrique’s hair vs Manuel Pellegrini’s hair
Enrique doesn’t brush his hair enough, Pellegrini brushes his too much. It’s going to be a ‘fascinating encounter’. Clive.