MAN CITY 0 – 2 Barcelona – FIVE THOUGHTS

19 Feb

It’s hard to put an exact finger on the lingering emotion following last night’s defeat. Certainly, there is a measure of pride at how City performed against one of the best sides in the world and how we acquitted ourselves with resilience and spirit, but there is also an element of resignation and emptiness after Dani Alves’s late, late goal broke our barriers and killed the tie. Had the difference remained just one, we would have travelled to Spain with a degree of hope that the loss could be overturned but that crucial second goal has resulted in a deflated acceptance of our likely fate.

And yet, despite the defeat, it’s hard to be overly negative. Challenged by the elegance of Barcelona in our first Champions League knockout tie, this was the dream encounter we had been longing for and, for the most part, the players responded with an assured solidity that bodes well. Supporters know that this is the first of what will become a yearly thrill and there were plenty of signs that this is a level at which we deserve to be playing. Here are five thoughts on the game.

Pellegrini’s Tactics

On a night when we succumbed at home, it would be easy to blame the manager and his tactics, yet I felt Pellegrini was largely spot on with the way in which he deployed his players. As expected, he adopted a pragmatic approach, including an extra midfielder and employing just one striker, with David Silva drifting around as a link between the lines. The surprise in the starting line-up was Aleks Kolarov on the left of midfield, just in front of Gael Clichy, but the Chilean’s tactics and the restrictive mindset of the team, although a contrast to what we have become accustomed this season, were necessary.

The doubling up on the left nullified the threat of the onrushing Dani Alves and that forced the visitors to attack more centrally, something that worked to City’s strengths. In those areas, Yaya Touré and Fernandinho were more restrained than usual, sitting deeper and only pressing Barcelona when they approached our final third, and the central defensive pairing of Vincent Kompany and Martin Demichelis were compact, organised and effective. At times, it wasn’t pretty but against a side who control the game so effortlessly, that grit and determination are essential.

It took half an hour before the visitors had their first shot, a sign of how well the Blues had done to restrict the Spaniards. For all their aesthetically pleasing possession, there was never the impression that Barcelona were hurting City. It was attractive domination but there was an absence of penetration, and for that, Pellegrini deserves credit. The shape of City’s back four, with another wall of shirts in front of them, was near-perfect for an hour and it was only late on, as fatigue crept in, that we became a touch more rattled.

Martin Demichelis

Often, it is far too simplistic to highlight a sending off as the moment on which an encounter turned. Last night, however, it would be perfectly accurate to say just that. As touched on above, the solidity of the team had worked to thwart Barcelona’s endeavours but in one moment, the complexion of not just the game, but the tie as a whole, changed.

Demichelis was the culprit in terms of making the challenge and receiving a red card, and that will suit the foolish agenda of those who use the Argentine as a repeated scapegoat, but it is naïve to pin the blame solely on him. As the ball was played forward to Lionel Messi, Demichelis’s positioning has been questioned, but it was Kompany who was deeper than the rest of the back four, leaving his partner with too much to do to catch Messi. And then came the last-ditch desperate lunge.

The tackle had to be made – in the fraction of a section which Demichelis had to make up his mind, every footballer’s instinct, especially that of a defender, would be to attempt to reach the ball – but unfortunately for City, he was just half a second late and the sending off was inevitable. Whilst contact started outside the box, it continued inside and that gives justification for the referee’s award of a penalty and Messi did the rest. Up until that point, what is irrefutable is how impressive Demichelis had been, snuffing out danger thanks to his ability to anticipate play. His inclusion had been a cause for concern but he had displayed all his experience and defensive guile to avert any problems. How quickly one’s fortunes can change…

After The Red Card

The decision to reduce City to ten men was followed by an increase in the pressure Barcelona exerted. As they moved the ball quicker and attacked with more width to stretch weary legs, Dani Alves found space in abundance and Messi, hitherto kept quiet by Kompany’s and Demichelis’s intelligent marking, grew in influence. Come the final ten minutes, City were exhausted. Fernandinho, rushed back after injury, couldn’t quite summon the energy to close down as eagerly as previously, Clichy was overwhelmed on the left and it was from that position that the second goal – the killer goal - developed. Ruthlessly, Barcelona had taken advantage of the situation and ground us down. It came late, but their reward arrived.

Vincent Kompany

From a City perspective the standout performer was, as is often the case, our irrepressible captain. Against a glut of outrageously talented stars, he elevated himself to lead our resistance. Whether on the ground, in the air, centrally, covering out wide or stepping forward to pinch possession, he was imperious. City’s defensive barrier was breached twice, but had Kompany not produced a titanic display it could have been plenty more.

The Next Leg

Is there any hope for the Blues in the return leg? Well, had we managed to keep the deficit to one, then thoughts would have turned to an improbable, but not impossible, comeback. Now, even though Sergio Aguero will be available, it feels as if the tie is over. Pellegrini faces the dilemma of whether to adopt similar constraining tactics to keep Barcelona at bay for a while and then attack late on, or to go at them from the start and bow out, or advance, in an attacking frenzy. We’ll find out soon enough.

8 Responses to “MAN CITY 0 – 2 Barcelona – FIVE THOUGHTS”

  1. GaryCTID 19/02/2014 at 7:22 pm #

    Now we all know one thing about ourselves, and that is our own opinions are by far the best! But with that said, why am I still slogging my guts out as a middle aged plasterer and not a top European football club manager?????
    So here’s where we went wrong. I’ve been watching Barca play for many years now and the only way to beat them is to deny them the ball. You can’t win if you don’t have the ball. We learnt that harsh lesson last night with a meagre 32% possession. We did what nearly ever other team do against them which is to sit back and allow them the ball and the majority of the pitch, like lesser teams do to us. But are we not better than that? Not more ambitious? Do we not posess that belief in ourselves? We were the home team, wasn’t the onus on us to dictate the tempo of the game and not succumb to the Barca fear factor? All we did was sit back and try to retain them. Which we did really well. They had a ridiculous pass rate but what did they do with it? Nothing. One shot on target from Xavi at the end of the first half. But where was our goals going to come from? When our defenders did get a touch of the ball they just walloped it downfield where poor Negredo was totally on his own. Thus instantly giving up any chance of possession where we could start to dictate the game ourselves. Barca are beatable. But to do that you’ve got to be bold enough to leave two forwards upfront and to smother their midfield domination and never allow them any time on the ball. I (being a top manager) would have played 3-5-2. Zabaleta Kompany Demichelis-Garcia Toure Fernandinho Silva Nasri-Negredo Jovetic. I know in the past we’ve struggled with 3 at the back but remember, Barca don’t play with a standard forward line. It’s really just Messi and Alexis. But Messi, especially, drops well into midfield positions. Our 5 midfielders would not allow them the space they’re used to tap tap tapping the ball all over the bloody place! And Jovetic supporting Negredo and making us a striking force with being the home team demands in trying to get that all important home win.
    But even though that last minute goal was a killer, all is not lost. We beat Bayern away so we can certainly beat Barca away too. But we can’t give them the respect we did last night. We have to believe we can genuinely compete with and beat such teams. And of course, we’ll have Kun back. I’m confident we can do it. COME ON CITY!!!!!!!!!!

    • Kev Harrison 19/02/2014 at 9:48 pm #

      Erm… when Bayern desstroyed Barca last season, Bayern had 35% possession, across the 2 legs.
      Barca always have more of the ball. It’s what you do with it, that kills them ;)

    • Mathew 20/02/2014 at 4:02 am #

      Gary, did you say “deny Barca the ball?” Really?

  2. Glenn kavanagh 19/02/2014 at 8:57 pm #

    I had a tough day in work today, I defended city like Franco barasi, pulled a few jerseys too ✌

  3. Mathew 19/02/2014 at 9:47 pm #

    Vfab. You are right to support the Demichelis selection. I had worried about it, but he was quite close to being man of the half until the penalty.

    Who else could he have selected, Lescott?

    Lescott played his last European game for City, he is an absolute liability with the ball at his feet, and when his team mates look up for a pass and see lescott, they hesistate. They do not have any confidence in him, and nor does Pelligrini.

    He selected Kolarov for three reasons, one as you suggested to keep Barcelona’s dangerous right sided players in check, and because Milner was unavailable and Nasri is not ready for such a high impact 90 minutes.

    I am surprised Javi Garcia didn’t play after his game against Chelsea.

    The tie is not over. If we get an early goal at the Nou Camp, anything is possible.

    Anyway, to win in Europe we need decent defensive cover, Fernando and Mangala.

  4. Timothy Reid 20/02/2014 at 12:18 pm #

    When you mix it with the ‘big boys’ you have got to get used to defeats and been out played in games !!!
    Maybe in a few years we will have gain the right type of experience.

  5. bluebooooooooom 20/02/2014 at 4:44 pm #

    errrrm as iv have said before domestic treble onwards blues

    • Timothy Reid 20/02/2014 at 7:54 pm #

      Domestic double would be mind blowing !!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Please,please keep in touch with our past.

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