Possession is a vital sign if death of tiki-taka is to be confirmed at Etihad

Everyone knows how to beat Barcelona, but few can do it.

No doubt Manchester United went into those Champions League finals of 2009 and 2011 intending to make the most of greater height at set pieces. Yet the only scorer with a header was the diminutive Lionel Messi, who left such giants as Rio Ferdinand and Edwin van der Sar scrambling as he sealed victory in Rome.

The joy of football — which Barcelona have defined at various stages of their history, and never more than in the past decade — is that it transcends athletics.

That’s not to deny that the Barcelona of Pep Guardiola, Tito Vilanova and Tata Martino have excelled at the short sprint, because it wins them the ball back, preventing opponents from building the momentum that earns free-kicks and corners. But can they dominate possession against Manchester City at the Etihad?

One qualified to judge — the only manager who has confounded Manuel Pellegrini in the Premier League in Manchester this season — believes City can emerge triumphant from the most appetising European contest of the season so far.

Jose Mourinho, who enjoyed mixed fortunes against Guardiola’s team in Spain but memorably prevailed on the way to Inter’s Champions League triumph of 2010, calls Martino’s side “the worst Barcelona of many, many years”.

Given the apparent brilliance of the 6-0 win over Rayo Vallecano on Saturday that kept them top of La Liga, it’s a devastating verdict on Spanish football. But it also conforms with the Chelsea manager’s recent tendency to catch the ear with sweeping statements.

So we shall see tonight if reports of the death of tiki-taka are exaggerated. True, there have been difficulties as Martino has combined the style with faster and more direct counter-attack. But tonight, in order to avoid the perils of a high foul count, possession will be vital. Along, of course, with the aerial power of Messi.

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