Barcelona appear to have hit form with ominous timing for Champions League knockout-phase debutants Manchester City ahead of Tuesday’s last-16 first leg at the Etihad Stadium.
After one win in four Spanish league games, Barcelona have won their past two matches emphatically, scoring 10 goals in the process.
Following a 4-1 success at Sevilla, Saturday’s 6-0 demolition of Rayo Vallecano strengthened their position on top of the table on goal difference from Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid.
The game featured a goal-scoring return from injury for Neymar.
“Now the best part of the season, where all the games are important, is upon us,” captain Carles Puyol said.
“We are facing a very good team with great players, but Barcelona always believe in their own chances. We are in good form and it will be a very even tie.”
City could scarcely have asked for more daunting opposition in what will be their first knockout game in the post-1992 Champions League era, but Manuel Pellegrini’s side can also take heart from their weekend result.
After two games without victory, the 2012 English champions beat Chelsea 2-0 in the FA Cup fifth round.
Samir Nasri believes it was ideal preparation for Barcelona’s visit.
“It is a massive game,” said the French midfielder, back from a five-week injury layoff.
“Every player wants to play those kind of games – Champions League, last 16, against Barcelona. The good thing is we are really strong. We have our confidence back.
“I think they are weaker than they were two years ago.”
With James Milner suspended and Fernandinho a doubt with injury, Javi Garcia is in line to partner Yaya Toure in midfield, while top scorer Sergio Aguero is expected to miss out with a knee problem.
Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino has the rare luxury of a fully-fit squad to choose from.
Despite demonstrating his fitness, Brazilian superstar Neymar is expected to be on the bench, but Xavi is likely to come back in after being rested on Saturday.
With Lionel Messi scoring 10 goals in 11 games since his return to fitness, Pellegrini feels that reports of Barca’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
“Any coach would love to have the roster that Barca has.
“Barca have 12 wonderful players. Messi, Xavi, (Andres) Iniesta, Neymar, Cesc (Fabregas), Pedro – they are full of great players.