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Fernandinho to make the difference for Man City in Barca battle

Fernandinho has a winning goal against Barcelona from his days at Shakhtar Donetsk to his credit. Back the industrious Brazilian with Coral to score anytime at 7/1 as Manchester City host the Catalan giants in the Champions League last 16 first leg.

City manager Manuel Pellegrini was cautious when asked about Fernandinho starting this crunch clash at the Etihad. “He has a chance. He is in the squad list,” the Chilean coach said. “We will see who can start but he has worked [in training] without any problem.”

Surely Pellegrini will throw Fernandinho straight back after a muscle injury into a midfield battle against Barca though. His recent international recall by Brazil boss Phil Scolari is recognition of what he offers for both club and country.

At first glance, three Premier League goals and as many assists from Fernandinho pale in comparison with usual midfield partner Yaya Toure’s contributions to the City cause this term. Yet, the Brazilian has started every Champions League game the Etihad outfit have played since he joined – albeit without scoring.

Hosts City are 15/8 to win their first leg with Barcelona (6/4) and it’s 12/5 for a draw. If Pellegrini’s team are to enjoy success in their first ever meeting with the La Liga leaders, then midfield pressing is essential.

That is likely to be Fernandinho’s charge as he lines up against the likes of Spanish quartet Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta and ageing metronome Xavi. City are 13/8 outsiders to qualify for the quarter-finals, while Barca are odds-on at 1/2.

It is this less glamorous work which is easily overlooked by many. Fernandinho doing it allows Toure to surge forward, but his own discipline – a quality that doesn’t immediately leap to mind when you think of Brazilian midfield players – may help City to stop Barcelona from settling into their rhythm.

Disrupting the opposition is a key component of Pellegrini’s plans because, although he wants City to offer their own attacking threat, goals have dried up recently. They scored a whopping 33 times in January, but have managed to net just twice since.

Should City stop Barca playing, supply to pacy wingers Pedro and Alexis Sanchez (both 2/1 shots to score anytime) will stop. There is still four-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi to contend with, however, but that will be Vincent Kompany’s problem.

A fine first season for Fernandinho in England can continue here if he gets around Xavi. That individual battle may prove to be where the tie is won and lost.