MANCHESTER, England – As Champions League rallying cries go, Gerard Pique struck an unusually downbeat tone for a Barcelona player — particularly when speaking in the stadium of his team's opponent Tuesday in the second round of the Champions League: Manchester City.
"Maybe they don't fear us as before," Pique said Monday, "because in the last two years we didn't win the Champions League."
Uncertainty is seeping into the squad lauded as perhaps the greatest ever, with Champions League titles in 2006, 2009 and 2011.
Such pessimism, though, seems at odds with Barca's current outlook. The team already has reached the Copa del Rey final and tops the Spanish league on goal difference over Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. Lionel Messi has 10 goals in 10 games since returning from a two-month injury layoff.
"We are a team with a lot of players who won the World Cup, the Champions League, leagues," said Pique, a former defender at Manchester United. "We can still be the best, but we have to show the world we can do it. Tomorrow is a great chance."
It is also a chance to shift the attention from Barca's most damaging crisis in years. Club president Sandro Rosell quit last month as he fights a lawsuit alleging he misappropriated funds by hiding the real cost of signing Brazilian forward Neymar with false contracts.
Barcelona, owned by its members, is a Catalan institution that prides itself as being "more than a club."
"We know within the club maybe in the last six months there were some things that we could not control (as) the players," Pique said. "All we can do is tomorrow on the pitch show the world we can still be the best."
City is viewed by some as a "Mini-Barcelona" hoping to become a global force helped by funding from Abu Dhabi. City's board room is populated by former Camp Nou executives, and the team attempts to play with similar stylish, short-passing moves.
"City is one of the greatest teams in the world right now," Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino said through a translator. "They are very similar to us, maybe they are a bit more direct, but they have good possession. ... If we don't have the ball it's just pointless to turn up."
Perhaps, that's not what the visiting fans want to hear.
Losing the home-and-home, total-goals series would be difficult for Martino, hired last summer after Tito Villanova quit because of throat cancer.
"For the last six seasons, Barcelona has made it to the semifinals and the fans are used to that," Martino said. "It would be difficult to understand that we didn't go through."
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris