City run into formidable Barca

French heavyweights Paris St Germain lock horns with struggling Leverkusen

City run into formidable Barca

Free-scoring Manchester City will face the toughest test yet of their European credentials when they face European aristocrats Barcelona in the first leg of the standout tie of the Champions League round of 16 on Tuesday.

Both teams will start what promises to be a memorable duel at the Etihad Stadium boosted by superb wins on Saturday, with City returning to their best form in beating Chelsea 2-0 in the FA Cup and Barcelona crushing Rayo Vallecano 6-0 in La Liga.

Both were also boosted by the return of important players after injury.

Samir Nasri came on as a second-half substitute for City after missing seven games and scored City's second against Chelsea within minutes of his arrival while Neymar also returned as a substitute in the second half for the Spanish champions to score a stunning goal after four matches out to complete Barca's scoring.

Neymar is likely to be on the bench at the start on Tuesday, which may offer some relief for the home team, who will probably have to raise their already impressive game to even greater heights if they are to knock-out the four-times European champions.

City coach Manuel Pellegrini is well aware of what Barca are capable of from his time with Villarreal, Malaga and Real Madrid in Spain, whileCity's free-ranging midfielder Yaya Toure spent three years at the Nou Camp and won ever major honour with them, including the Champions League in 2009.

City are in uncharted waters as far as the Champions League is concerned, having been knocked out at the group stage in their two previous appearances.

But they are the highest scoring team in this season's competition with 28 goals.

City gave a hint of their growing strength with a 3-2 win away to champions Bayern Munich in the group stage, and they have scored 117 goals in all competitions this season.

The Spanish champions had the perfect warm-up on Saturday when Messi, who looks to be back to his best after returning in early January from a two-month injury layoff, scored twice to overtake Alfredo di Stefano in La Liga scoring history.

Messi's 228 goals in 263 games took him to joint third on the all-time list with Raul, behind Telmo Zarra (251) and Hugo Sanchez (234).

As well as Messi having an outstanding game on Saturday, midfielders Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta turned in scintillating displays and in-form forwards Pedro and Alexis also scored as Barca totally overwhelmed second-from-bottom Rayo at the Nou Camp.

Barcelona will also be seeking to end a run of five games in England other than the Wembley final without a win, but even a draw at City could well tip the tie in their favour ahead of the second leg in Barcelona on March 12.

Bayer test for PSG

The other game on Tuesday features heavyweights Paris St Germain against Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen.

It will be the first time the sides have met in Europe and the Germans have an excellent home record against French opposition in European competition, winning four out of six matches.

Domestically, however, Leverkusen have struggled recently and have lost five of their last seven.

Sami Hyypia's side played better despite losing 2-1 at the Bayer Arena to Schalke 04 on Saturday, although striker Stefan Kiessling is strugging to reclaim his touch in front of goal.

Kiessling, 30, scored two goals in six games in the Champions League group stage this season as Bayer finished second in Group A behind Manchester United. With Edinson Cavani recovering from a thigh problem and  expected to return before the end the month, the talismanic Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic will lead the attack.

Ibrahimovic said he was determined to help PSG win the Champions League – a feat he has not achieved despite playing for Barcelona, Juventus, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Ajax.

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