City sold out of their 4,700 allocation for their first ever trip to Camp Nou in a competitive game and demand is high from their fans. Tickets in home sections of the stadium were changing hands for €300 (£248) on the black market before Barca's 2-0 win in Manchester. Demand will slacken considerably after their comfortable victory.
The result was a surprise. The day after the draw was made, I spoke to several diehard fans and journalists in Barcelona.
“I think City are favourites,” said Santi Giminez, a Barca specialist for the newspaper AS. “The fans know it could be a great tie, but they think City are very difficult opponents. They saw how they played against Arsenal and they’ve not been happy with the way Barca have been playing. If Messi is back at the top of his game, things could be different."
The mood in Barcelona around December's draw is different to now. Then, one newspaper, which was not taken with the tactics under new manager Gerardo Martino, ran a front-page reading, 'This Is Not Our Barca'.
Now Messi is back after injury, Neymar too. Historically weaker in February, even under Guardiola, Barcelona are coming to the boil at the right time. Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas are enjoying better seasons than a year ago, when the club had lost their coach Tito Vilanova to cancer treatment. Summer signing Neymar has been a positive, though exorbitant, addition.
Barca are in the Copa del Rey final against Real Madrid and sit at the top of the league table with Madrid and Atletico. Expectations are lower than they've been in recent seasons - the 7-0 aggregate defeat to Bayern Munich last season popped any pretensions that Barca were still the best team in Europe - but look at their quality and their form. They were only the second team to win at City this season.
It's going to be very difficult for Manuel Pellegrini's side. Liverpool are the only English team to triumph in Camp Nou, their 2-1 victory against the holders in 2007 helped them through on away goals as they lost the home leg 1-0 three weeks later.
They also won in a 1976 UEFA Cup semi-final away thanks to a single John Toshack goal. In their 27 home games against English clubs, Barca have won 15, drawn 10 and lost only those two games against Liverpool.
Aston Villa reached the quarter-final of the UEFA Cup in 1977-78, where they met Barcelona. Villa drew the home leg 2-2 and travelled to Catalonia two weeks later. It’s a night full-back John Gidman remembers well.
“I was paid to wear Puma boots," recalls the former Villa, Everton, Manchester United, City and England defender. "But before the game in Barcelona some guy approached me in the team hotel and offered us money to wear these new boots from a Spanish company.
"I told him that we couldn’t wear them, that the lads would never all wear new boots, but that we could paint our normal boots to look like his brand. Our manager Ron Saunders wasn’t bothered, so I took the money and shared it among the lads. We had a photo before the game and everyone wanted to be at the back because they didn’t want to be seen in these boots.
“Cruyff and Neeskens were playing and the tackles were flying in. I had my nose broken and the ref wasn’t controlling the game. My nose was bleeding when I got an elbow in the eye - not my right eye fortunately as that had been damaged by a firework a couple of years earlier.
"I lost my temper and hit the guy. I got sent off after 23 minutes, was blamed for us going out of the competition and received a good dig off the police in the tunnel. I left the ground at half time and went to a bar nearby. I wasn't thinking straight and I was disappointed because I’d paid for my dad to come and watch the game and he’d never been abroad before. The game was on the television in the bar and I was recognised because of my nose. I had to get off back to the stadium quickly.”
Against the odds, Villa's Brian Little gave them the lead in the 57th minute, before Migueli and Asensi took the Catalans through 4-3 on aggregate. More problems lay ahead for Gidman though.
“There was a picture of me in the papers the next day fighting – and wearing boots which did not look like they were made by Puma. I got a phone call off the Puma representative, who wasn’t happy. He came to the training ground to check our match boots, which had been cleaned by that time. I lied to him that I had worn Puma and it became my word against his. I kept the contract.”
Gidman would never get away with such a ruse now. There's too much media coverage, not that Aston Villa are likely to be playing Barcelona any time soon. And if that's unlikely, consider this: the only British team to beat Barcelona home and away in a European tie are not English, but Dundee United.
The Arabs have a 100% record in four games against Barcelona, having beaten them home and away in the 1966 Fairs Cup. History repeated itself 21 years later when Paul Sturrock and David Narey upstaged Barcelona strikers Gary Lineker, Steve Archibald and Mark Hughes in the 1986-87 UEFA Cup. If City want inspiration before they head south to Spain next month, they need to head north to Dundee to see how it was done.
Andy Mitten - @AndyMitten
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