FC Barcelona's aura of invincibility may have faded but ahead of their round of 16 opener at Manchester City FC, Gerard Piqué says they possess the tools to resume their role as the world's eminent club.
Winning in style had become an all-consuming habit for the Spain defender since swapping Manchester United FC for Barcelona in 2008. Last year, however, FC Bayern München crushed the Catalan giants at the semi-final juncture of the UEFA Champions League by sending seven unanswered goals past them over two legs. Tuesday is the perfect time to set the record straight according to Piqué.
"Perhaps teams don't fear us as much because we have not won this competition for two years," he admitted. "However they [Manchester City] still respect us as we're a team full of players who have won the World Cup and Champions League. We can still be the best, and this is a great chance to show the world that we have top players that can win this game."
Since taking over the Camp Nou reins in July, Gerardo Martino has steered Barcelona to the Liga summit and Copa del Rey final, while working studiously to reinvigorate the team's style of play. "It has been very positive with 'Tata'," the centre-back explained. "If you had told us in August that we would be league leaders and in the Champions League, we probably wouldn't have believed you.
"The team are playing at a very high level. We are having lots of possession and creating chances. [Lionel] Messi is still obviously the key man and I'm sure he'll do well [against City]," continued Piqué. "The only thing we can do against a great team like Manchester City is go out on the pitch and play to our potential."
'Great' is just one of a number of superlatives used to described City this term. Indeed, Manuel Pellegrini's men have been scintillating on home soil, winning 11 of their 12 Premier League matches at the City of Manchester Stadium and plundering 42 goals in the process. Last month, Edin Džeko registered their 100th strike of the season in all competitions. And even without the injured Sergio Agüero, Piqué knows there are a host of attacking riches in reserve.
"[Álvaro] Negredo is an exceptional player and he's had an amazing season. However, it's not always all about him. They also have [Yaya] Touré, [Samir] Nasri and [Jesús] Navas. All of these players can score goals and we have to beware of them from set pieces and defend well," said Piqué, who stopped short of throwing caution to the wind.
"This is the last 16 and this has always been a very important competition for us. It is a very difficult stadium to play at, but we are going to give as good as we can," he said. "We have to win and play well. There are three months left of the season and all of us are very focused."