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30 November 2023

Pique eager for Barcelona to restore lustre


Barcelona defender Gerard Pique thinks that his side's Champions League last 16 tie with Manchester City represents an opportunity to restore their reputation as one of the world's leading clubs.

Barcelona has not won Europe's premier club competition since 2011 and were dealt a humiliating 7-0 aggregate defeat by eventual champions Bayern Munich in last season's semi-finals.

The Catalan club have also been scarred by scandal in recent weeks, with Sandro Rosell forced to step down as president over allegations he misappropriated funds in the 57.1 million euros ($77 million) deal that brought Neymar to the club from Santos last year.

While Pique accepts that the players are powerless to affect media focus on the club's dealings at boardroom level, he says that they can create positive headlines with their performances.

"The only way we have to speak is on the pitch," he said during a press conference on Monday ahead of his side's last 16 first leg at City.

"Maybe in the last six months, there were some things that we cannot control as players.

"All we can do is go on the pitch tomorrow (Tuesday) and show the world we can still be the best and try to play a great game against Man City with all their great players."

Asked if rival teams still feared Barcelona, the Spain international replied: "You have to ask them.

"I think that maybe they don't fear us as before because the last two years we didn't win the Champions League, but I think they still respect us.

"We're a team with a lot of players that won the World Cup, Champions Leagues, leagues. I think we can still be the best, but we have to show to the world that we can do it."

Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino has a fully fit squad to select from, but he revealed that he will make a late decision on whether or not to include Neymar in his starting XI at the Etihad Stadium.

The Brazil superstar recently spent a month on the sidelines with an ankle injury, but he made a goal-scoring return to action in Barca's 6-0 demolition of Rayo Vallecano in La Liga on Saturday.

"What's important for us is to have him healthy," said Martino, whose side currently lead La Liga on goal difference from Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid.

"He played 30 minutes against Rayo, but we'll decide tomorrow whether he'll start or come on later."

In City, managed by former Real Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini, Barcelona will come up against a team who place a similar emphasis on keeping possession of the ball and aggressively pressing their opponents.

Martino acknowledged the similarities between the teams and predicted that possession would be a determining factor in the outcome of the tie.

"I don't think they're a mini-Barcelona or a mini-anything -- they're one of the best teams in the world right now," he said.

"They have great Spanish players like Jesus Navas, who plays very vertically, and David Silva, who comes into the centre and has a great sense of tempo, but it is not only Spanish players.

"They have great players from all over the world like (Yaya) Toure and Fernandinho."

He added: "City have a profile very similar to us. Maybe a bit more direct, but they're very good on the ball and they like to elaborate their play.

"I think the team with the least time on the ball are likely to suffer the most."