It might surprise you to know that Barcelona have actually got a pretty poor record for this stage of the Champions League. It is not that bad, of course, because we have not failed to reach the semi-final stage since 2007 and have won the competition twice in that time. But in four of the last five years, Barcelona have failed to win their away leg at the last 16 phase.
The fact that Barcelona have not lost a game by more than one goal all season is a pretty incredible stat and should give Tata Martino and his players a great deal of confidence for tomorrow. But the Barca boss is taking no chances and is set to name his strongest possible starting XI.
The second leg of the Copa Del Rey semi-final against Real Sociedad should see the new manager book a place in the final of a major competition at the first time of asking. I’m not including the Spanish Supercup victory over Atletico Madrid because Martino was not in charge to qualify for that.
There have been concerns raised in Spain about the form of Barcelona and Lionel Messi. As usual, the two are closely linked, even perhaps intrinsically linked, especially with new Brazilian star Neymar currently unavailable with his own injury problem.
People have pointed to the fact that Messi has not been playing quite the same role as usual, often dropping deeper and not making his trademark bursts into the penalty area. His goalscoring has certainly not been what we expect since he returned from a two month lay-off with a hamstring problem.
A lot can happen between now and February, but everyone concerned with FC Barcelona must be pretty glad that the next phase of the Champions League is a couple of months away, after drawing arguably the toughest side in the draw for the knockout stage.
Manchester City have just beaten Bayern Munich in the Allianz arena and followed it up with a 6-3 victory over the Premier League leaders Arsenal. I would probably say that Arsenal, because of their form this season and their experience in Europe, would have been the worst team to draw, but City’s mega rich owners have assembled a squad of superstars, including former Barca man Yaya Toure, who we should never have let go.
There is no official confirmation of when, or even if, the young Brazilian superstar Neymat will become a Barcelona player. According to the Brazilian media, however, it is merely a matter of when, and the consensus seems to be that the transfer will be completed in the summer.
According to Mundodeportivo, the club have been negotiating the terms of Neymar’s arrival for the last 18 months. The 21-year old was believed to be keen to stay at his club Santos until the summer of 2014, when the World cup will be played in Rio, but the belief now is that the striker feels that the time has come to move to the big time in Europe. Neymar already has 17 goals from his 28 senior international games, and has gained enough experience at club level in Brazil.
There are certain clubs who have got an awesome amount of spending power, much more than Barcelona even though Barca is a bigger club. Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is a Russian billionaire who began the modern trend of having a football club as a plaything.
Since taking over Chelsea in 2003, Abramovich has spent money like a man with no arms and holes in his pockets. The club have enjoyed great success in England since and finally picked up the coveted prize of the Champion’s league last season, enjoying massive amounts of luck as we well know.
The Brazilian striker, Neymar, is one of the hottest properties in world football and has been the subject of many a transfer rumour. This summer, the 20-year old and his representatives, after speaking with his bosses at Santos, decided to stay at the Brazilian club for at least one more season. They believed that his development would be best served by this and moving to Europe too son could have a negative effect.
The new coach of FC Barcelona, Tito Vilanova, had put Javi Martinez and Thiago Silva at the top of his most wanted list. Now he has changed his focus to the English Premier league and Thomas Vermaelen, Vincent Kompany and David Luiz.
AC Milan have already turned down an offer of 46 million euros for their Brazilian defender Silva. Athletic Bilbao are demanding too high a price from Barca and the deal is further complicated, because Martinez does not want to upset the fans and the club that has been good to him. It is thought, also, that Bilbao promised their coach Bielsa that they would not break up the team. He signed a contract extension on the strength of this.