MANCHESTER, February 23- Manchester City midfielder Samir Nasri told his team-mates on Monday that they must shed any sense of inferiority if they are to outwit Barcelona in the Champions League last 16.
Nasri was a member of the City team beaten 4-1 on aggregate by Barcelona at the same stage of last season’s competition, which was the third time he had fallen foul of the Catalan giants in his career.
Barcelona are favourites to progress ahead of Tuesday’s reunion at the Etihad Stadium, but with an extra year’s experience and a close to full-strength squad, Nasri feels City are now a different prospect.
“I think we respected them too much,” the former Arsenal midfielder said when asked if City had approached last season’s tie too cautiously.
“But we weren’t experienced to compete with a club like this. They know how to play this kind of game. They know how to win the Champions League and it was the first time we’d been through the group stage.
“I think it was too much of a big game. We were not ready, but this year is totally different. We know what we are capable of. We’re not going to be scared and we’re going to play to win.”
City will be missing Yaya Toure through suspension, but in contrast to last season’s encounter with Barcelona, they have Sergio Aguero fully fit and close to peak form.
The Argentina striker missed last season’s 2-0 first-leg defeat at the Etihad with a hamstring injury and lasted only 45 minutes in the second leg before being replaced by Edin Dzeko.
But he has grown in sharpness following a recent lay-off with knee ligament damage, scoring three times in his last two games, and Nasri believes he is the equal of all but Lionel Messi in the Barcelona team.
– ‘Create our history’ –
“Messi and (Cristiano) Ronaldo play in their own galaxy. They compete with each other,” Nasri told a press conference at the newly opened City Football Academy across the road from the Etihad.
“But the rest, (Luis) Suarez and Neymar, are the same level as Sergio. Sergio, when he is fit, can lift the team and score goals.”
City have struggled at home in the Champions League of late, winning only three of their last 10 home games, and there is a feeling that their fans are still to be seduced by Europe’s top club competition.
City failed to sell out their first home game this season, a 1-1 draw with Roma in September, and resorted to a buy-one-get-one-free ticket offer for November’s 2-1 loss to CSKA Moscow.
But Nasri believes that it is only by seeing their team overcome sides such as Luis Enrique’s Barcelona that City’s supporters will come to love the competition.
Asked if he had the impression that the club’s fans were more enthused by the prospect of watching Premier League games, the former France midfielder replied: “Yeah, I think so.
“Because we have a lot of success in the Premier League, so the fans are really passionate about that.
“In the Champions League, we need to create our history to have a special relationship with the fans. A game like Barcelona can be a step in the competition.”
City manager Manuel Pellegrini confirmed that midfielder James Milner was “100 percent” fit after a knee problem, meaning that, aside from Toure, he has a full squad to choose from.