MANCHESTER, England — There’s no way Pep Guardiola will be leaving out Sergio Aguero this time. Aguero was on the bench at the start of Manchester City’s 4-0 loss at Barcelona in the last round of Champions League matches, leaving many to question the sense in Guardiola omitting possibly his best player for such a big match against his old club.
Guardiola did it for tactical reasons, using playmaker Kevin De Bruyne in a withdrawn striker role to give City an extra body in midfield. Even if the tactic worked well at first — the game only really changed after City had goalkeeper Claudio Bravo sent off after 53 minutes with the score at 1-0 — Guardiola was widely criticized.
For the return match at City on Tuesday, Aguero will be back in City’s team. “But I’m not going to tell you in which position he’s going to play,” Guardiola said, jokingly. Aguero gave a reminder of his finishing ability with two excellently taken goals in a 4-0 win over West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League on Saturday. That ended a six-game run without scoring for Aguero, although he was a substitute in three of them.
Guardiola has been asking Aguero to do more than just score goals this season, urging the Argentina striker to work harder to help the team in defensive situations and also to believe in himself more.
“I want to help Aguero to achieve his huge qualities as much as possible,” Guardiola said Monday. “I want to build up Sergio’s quality, and also his mentality.” The win over West Brom also ended City’s six-game winless run and it was ideal timing, given Barcelona and its superstar strike force of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar heading to Etihad Stadium with nine points from a possible nine in Group C. Only a draw is needed to secure the Spanish side’s 13th straight participation in the knockout stage.
City is in second place, five points behind Barcelona and one ahead of Borussia Moenchengladbach. “If we want to qualify,” City forward Nolito said, “we have to win this one.” Barcelona’s most pressing concerns are in defense, with left back Jordi Alba and center backs Gerard Pique and Jeremy Mathieu all out. Luis Enrique will probably field a makeshift defense of Lucas Digne, Samuel Umtiti, Javier Mascherano and Sergi Roberto. Midfielder Andres Iniesta is also injured for the match.
Messi has scored back-to-back hat tricks in the Champions League, against City and Celtic, to lead the competition with six goals despite missing a match because of injury. Here are some things to look out for on Tuesday:
Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal are tied with seven points and can both qualify with two group games to spare — if one wins and the other does not lose on Tuesday.
PSG travels to Basel and will be counting on Edinson Cavani adding to his haul of seven goals in the last six games. The Uruguay striker has 14 goals in all competitions — the most in Europe along with Messi.
PSG was flattered by the 3-0 winning margin over Basel two weeks ago, while Arsenal went even better with a 6-0 home victory at Ludogorets.
For the return match in Bulgaria, Arsenal should have in-form winger Theo Walcott back from a hamstring injury.
It’s not going well for Napoli.
The Italian team has lost four of its past six matches, including a 3-2 defeat at home against Besiktas, Tuesday’s opponent, in the Champions League.
Napoli still leads the group with six points, one more than Besiktas and two above Benfica, which hosts Dynamo Kiev.
The Portuguese side won 2-0 in Ukraine two weeks ago.
Moenchengladbach isn’t just looking for a home win over Celtic on Tuesday. The German side will also be hoping that Barcelona takes points off Man City so it can climb to second place and have a real chance of advancing at the expense of City.
With games to come against Barcelona and at City, Celtic realistically needs to beat Moenchengladbach to stand a chance of a third-place finish and qualification for the Europa League.
Bayern Munich’s early-season wobble looks behind the team before Tuesday’s trip to PSV Eindhoven.
A run of three winless games was a concern before Bayern beat PSV 4-1 in Munich, and it has had three more wins since.
Indeed, Bayern coach Carlo Ancelotti has suggested the dip in form may help avoid complacency for players who are so used to winning. Bayern will qualify for the last 16 with a win, provided group leader Atletico Madrid also avoids losing to winless FC Rostov at home.
Atletico is one of only three sides with a 100 percent record in the competition so far — along with Barcelona and Leicester — with Yannick Carrasco grabbing the goals in 1-0 wins over Bayern and Rostov. The Belgium winger also struck twice in Atletico’s 4-2 win over Malaga on Saturday.
Anything other than Atletico and Bayern’s early progression over sides with only a point each would be a surprise.