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UCL: Celtic out, Porto and Zenit through

UEFA Champions League 17 hours ago
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Richard Jolly profile picture Posted by Richard Jolly
Feb 17, 2014

Pique: Barcelona have lost fear factor

Manchester City host Barcelona in their UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg, City's first ever experience of knockout football in the competition.

Gerard Pique admitted Barcelona do not quite have the same fear factor after failing to reach the last two Champions League finals.

Curtis: City thoroughbreds on the gallop
• Toure: City not yet at Barca's level
Fernandinho back, Aguero out
Bennett: Kompany talks up City's chances

But the defender believes the La Liga leaders have a chance to make a statement to the footballing world when they face Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday.

Barcelona were acclaimed as one of the greatest teams ever when they were crowned European champions in 2011 for the second time in three seasons, but since then they have gone out in the last four to Chelsea and then Bayern Munich.

And Pique admits their aura of invincibility may have gone but feels the Barcelona players’ individual achievements means they are still held in high esteem by opponents.

He said: “I think that maybe they don’t fear us as before because in the last two years we did not win the Champions League but I think they still respect us.

“We are a team with a lot of players who won the World Cup and Champions Leagues, I think we can still be the best but we have to show to the world that we can do it. Tomorrow [Tuesday] is a great opportunity to show we are top players and can win here.”

Former Manchester United defender Pique has returned to the area to face City in the last-16 tie, but he explained that his first English club could have been Arsenal.

And he added: “I was 17 when I came here, I was a child. Obviously I would have liked to play more but it is was a very special three years, I learned a lot. I always say Man Utd is my second club after Barca.

“Arsenal approached me first and Cesc [Fabregas] had been there the year before and the way things went wasn’t so good so that made things difficult. Sir Alex Ferguson supported me, he welcomed me with open arms and he took me to dinner with my family.”

Despite United’s slump this season, Pique insisted he would still rather join them than their local rivals.

“What do you think?” he replied. “If I had to choose one, it would be United, but I am very happy in Barcelona, it is the club of my life and I am not thinking of leaving.”

Meanwhile, Blaugrana coach Tata Martino described City as one of the finest teams in the world and laughed off suggestions they are a “mini-Barcelona”.

The Argentine admitted the Spanish champions’ supporters would find it hard to stomach if the English club eliminate them from the Champions League, and he believes this is the toughest of all the ties in the last-16 of Europe’s premier club competition.

City, who have a phalanx of Spanish players have often been compared to Barcelona. But Martino said: “I don’t think City are a mini Barcelona or a mini any team. I think they are one of the greatest teams in the world.

“They have great Spanish players like [Jesus] Navas, who plays very vertically, [David] Silva who knows when to pass and when to cross, but it is not only Spanish players. They have great players from all over the world like [Yaya] Toure and Fernandinho.”

Barcelona won the Champions League in 2006, 2009 and 2011 and have not failed to reach the last four since 2007.

And Martino added: “Yes, for the last six seasons Barcelona has made it to the semi-finals and the fans are used to it. It will be difficult to understand if we don’t go through but it is the tightest tie of all.”

Martino faces a decision whether to select fit-again forward Neymar, who has recovered from an ankle injury.

He said: “What is important for us is to have him healthy. He played 30 minutes against Rayo [Vallecano, who Barcelona beat 6-0 on Saturday]. We will decide [on Tuesday] whether he will start or come on later.”

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