Manuel Pellegrini would have been advised to steer clear of the television set on Sunday afternoon. For if the Manchester City boss had cast his eyes over the Barcelona match, the images would have given the most terrifying nightmares imaginable; Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar running riot and embracing in celebration in a frighteningly ruthless preparation for their Champions League clash with the Premier League champions.
The Chilean would not have been rushing back to the Camp Nou after bowing out of the last-16 in whimpering fashion last year. On that occasion, the Catalan giants proved to be too strong, quick and organised for City as they raced into the quarter-finals to the tune of 4-1 on aggregate. However, Pellegrini's mind will not be fixated on the events of the past for he has a larger problem at hand. That problem is a vastly superior Barcelona to contend with.
In stark contrast, Luis Enrique's lacklustre beginning to life as Barca's coach has been fully expunged after a series of exhilarating performances which hark back to the halcyon days of Guardiola. Just last month Enrique was forced to answer questions over his long-term future at the club after reports claimed internal discord involving star player Lionel Messi. Barca had lost to David Moyes' Real Sociedad at the turn of year in a game where Enrique saw fit to start the Argentine superstar on the bench. In the fallout, Messi mysteriously missed training and the club's season appeared to be disintegrating.
However, the players have responded to whispers of disaffection with Enrique by producing a stunning run of form which has vaulted Barcelona right back into the title race and sees them operating at maximum proficiency ahead of the Champions League's return. Since the nadir of defeat in San Sebastien, Messi and co. have exploded with 11 straight victories, including morale-boosting triumphs over Atletico Madrid in both the league and cup, as well as frighteningly one-sided victories over Elche, Deportivo la Coruna and Levante.
The players are exhibiting a freedom and style to their play which had been alarmingly truant during the ill-fated spell of Gerardo Martino. Much to City's angst and trepidation, Barcelona have rediscovered that way of winning which makes racking off five or six goals on an afternoon's work curiously insouciant. One of the recurring motifs of Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United sides from down the years was that they seemed to hit their stride at exactly the right time. There are clear echoes of that characteristic in Barca's season.
Barcelona's irresistible form has been so blatant in recent weeks to the point of being ludicrous. On Sunday evening, a buzzing Camp Nou bellowed the name of Luis Enrique as his side romped to a 5-0 win over an overwhelmed Levante bereft of a response. It was their 11th victory in a row, equalling a haul set by Guardiola six years ago. They have some way to go before overtaking the record of 18 established by Frank Rijkaard's squad in the 2005-06 season, but they are certainly lurking ominously in the shadows of the history books.
What can be deduced from Barcelona's recent virtuoso displays is that their front three of Messi, Suarez and Neymar are working wonderfully in tandem. It took Suarez a few months to get settled into Catalonia, but now that he has, he is part of the deadliest attacking unit in world football. Suarez, who came off the bench to score a spectacular bicycle kick against Levante, looks to be hitting peak form once again which only adds to the worries of Manchester City. Suarez, Neymar and Messi are brimming with confidence and ideas, their magical influence and understanding of each other's games growing by the week.
Messi, in particular, is feeling invincible once again. He netted his 23rd La Liga hat-trick on Sunday on his 300th appearance for the club and ran the show with consummate panache and artistry. Messi's brilliance seems to be driving Neymar to constantly improve himself too. The Brazilian has scored 24 goals in 29 appearances in his second season and he exited the stage on Sunday to a rapturous standing ovation.
Yes, the signs are not good for Manchester City. They face a Barcelona determined to dispel rumours of upheaval after the pain of the Sociedad defeat. A pain which has only served to bind their collective spirit and catapult them to glorious new heights this season. Barcelona are a lot of things right now but a club in crisis definitely is not one of them. I wouldn't blame Pellegrini if the image of Suarez flying through the air to score or Messi ripping through defences was giving him pre-Champions League jitters.
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