LONDON: Samir Nasri claims that Manchester City have overcome the fear factor of facing Barcelona, insisting that Manuel Pellegrini's players are no longer "scared" of their Champions League opponents.
A year after their 4-1 elimination at the hands of Barcelona at the same last-16 stage of the 2013-14 competition, City go into the first leg at the Etihad Stadium tonight (Tuesday) infused by a new belief that they can overcome the four-time European champions.
Barcelona, whose 11-game winning run was brought to a halt with defeat at home against Malaga in La Liga on Saturday, arrived in Manchester yesterday (Monday) with a fully fit squad and with Luis Suarez poised to make his first appearance in England since completing a pounds 75?million transfer from Liverpool last summer.
However, despite Barcelona's recent form and an admission that he regards Lionel Messi as "being in another galaxy", Nasri insisted that City had learnt from their defeat last season and that Pellegrini's squad would not make the same mistake of being overawed by their opponents.
"Yes, I think we respected Barcelona too much but at the same time, last year, we were not experienced to compete with a club like this," Nasri said. "With their history, they know how to play in these kind of games and know how to win the Champions League. For us, it was the first time that we went through the group stage and I think it was too much of a big game for us and we were not ready for it. But I think that this year is totally different because we know what we are capable of.
"We are going to respect them as a club, but we are not going to be scared. We are just going to play and try to win."
On this occasion the City manager, who will be without the suspended Yaya Toure, admits that the priority is merely to claim a healthy share of possession from a team famously described by Sir Alex Ferguson as dominating games with their 'passing carousel'. Pellegrini said: "The main thing for our team is to try to fight for the possession of the ball. It's very important, because maybe a game with low pace will be better for Barcelona than our team. It is important to try to win here."
Inevitably when facing Barcelona, City's prospects are likely to be decided by their ability to contain Messi who, despite supposedly enduring a difficult season, has nonetheless scored 37 goals in 34 appearances so far this term.
The Argentine will form a fearsome front three alongside Neymar and Suarez, who has scored just seven times in 22 games for Barcelona, but Nasri insists that Suarez must learn to accept a secondary role at the Nou Camp due to Messi's presence in the team.
"I think Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo play in their own galaxy," Nasri said. "They compete with each other. The rest, Suarez and Neymar, are the same level as Sergio [Aguero]. Sergio, when he is fit, can lift the team and score goals. I just think that Messi is on another galaxy, so it is different for Suarez."
"At Liverpool, he (Suarez) was the main striker, but you are not going to score 70 goals playing for Barcelona because he makes a lot assists and opens up space for Messi and Neymar. He is good, he just doesn't score as much for Barcelona."