Manchester City have been on a steep learning curve in the Champions League but their last 16 first-leg home clash with four-time European kings Barcelona on 24 February offers a chance to show they are now serious contenders.

Last season's exit at the identical stage, also against Barcelona in a 4-1 defeat on aggregate, revealed City's shortcomings in a squad good enough to win the Premier League but still lacking authority and discipline against Europe's very best.

A year later, City are approaching the tie with growing optimism, even if they will be missing midfield talisman Yaya Toure at the Etihad as he completes a three-match suspension for his red card against CSKA Moscow.

After finding their creative edge blunted in recent months, City's attacking flair returned with a vengeance as they crushed Newcastle United 5-0 in the Premier League on 21 February.

In contrast, Barcelona's lethal-looking frontline misfired badly as their 11-match unbeaten run ended in a surprise 1-0 defeat by a well-drilled Malaga side.

City were boosted with the news that midfield trojan James Milner has shaken off an injury and manager Manuel Pellegrini was upbeat about his side's prospects.

"I think tomorrow we will see the real Barcelona here trying to continue in the Champions League," he said at a news conference in Manchester on 23 February.

"I said also last week it was important for our team to focus our minds just in Newcastle and to think on Tuesday. Maybe they didn't the same and thought they would beat Malaga in the same way but before that, they were playing very well and tomorrow I expect to find that Barcelona."

The challenge of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez

In Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Samir Nasri, Pellegrini's City side can score goals but keeping Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez quiet, as well as having 11 men on the pitch unlike last season, will be the key.

"Well, I think that Leo Messi will continue to be the best player in the world but I don't think that we must just think about stopping Leo Messi," Pellegrini said.

"If we just dedicate two, three or four players to stop Messi, you will have free Suarez, Neymar, Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets - a lot of good players also."

City's run to the last 16 a year ago was their best effort in the competition after two successive failures to survive the group stage and they will be buoyed by the way they sneaked into the knockout rounds this time, beating Bayern Munich and AS Roma. Both of those victories were recorded without the influential Toure - a player Pellegrini will be sorry to miss.

"I always prefer to play with Yaya as he is a very important player and think that our team plays better with Yaya," Pellegrini said.

"But we can play without Yaya also because we played another game without him, against Roma against Bayern Munich last year also and I think we have a good squad to replace him but of course always would always be better playing with him."

City finished the group stage second in Group E, behind Bayern Munich, and will play the second leg at Barcelona's Camp Nou on 18 March.