Wednesday, February 19, 2014

9am Thoughts on the 3:45am Match (Manchester City 0 - Barcelona 2)

I woke up at 3:45 this morning to make use of my other overpriced cable TV subscription (which I got just to see the Champions League). What the heck, it was Manchester City vs. Barcelona after all - it promised to be a great tie, which I totally expect to be settled within 2 nail-biting legs. Who knew that it was pretty much going to get settled within 90 minutes (in case you live in Mars, Barca won 2-0 thanks to a Messi penalty and a late Dani Alves goal)?
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Manchester City
Last night was the second time Pellegrini's misplaced faith in Martin Demichelis has backfired upon him and his team. Many followers of the Premier League will remember how the ageing Argentine defender, used as a midfielder against Mourinho’s Chelsea was completely abused by Willian, Hazard and Ramires in what was a very critical league match. Last night, playing in his preferred role as Center Back, the pony-tailed-Argentine was once again left exposed and in doing so, made his team pay a very painful price. Having him one-on-one with against Messi dribbling towards Joe Hart’s goal was only going to have one outcome. Yes, yes, yes – replays showed that Demichelis’ foul on his compatriot was OUTSIDE the penalty box. The foul however, with him playing as the last defender would have resulted in the straight red card nonetheless.
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City spent the first part of the season experiencing woes away from home largely due to a leaky defense as they waited for club captain Vincent Kompany’s return to fitness. Despite his return however, he remains without an ideal partner to form one of the key ingredients to a Championship side: a rock-solid central defensive partnership. Nastasic is a bright young prospect who seems to have the makings of a future first-choice Center Half. As of today however, he’s probably best suited as the team’s 3rd choice CB – as the first choice to step in in the event of injury or suspension to Kompany or his partner. Thus, I find that City would do well to splash the cash this summer for a top quality Center half and do away with all this funny risk-taking business with Demichelis. Despite his resume (having played for Bayern for a few years), it’s time for the club’s hierarchy to wake up and smell the coffee re: him. Martin Demichelis is not the starting CB for a BPL / Champions League-winning side.
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To Pellegrini’s credit, despite his declarations that his team ‘wouldn’t change their approach to the game regardless of who their opponents were’ (I paraphrase), he played a slightly more conservative side and team shape yet still had a go at Barcelona. Abandoning his 4-4-2 / 4-2-2-2, Pellegrini opted to play a 4-2-3-1 using true crossing wide men (Navas and Kolarov) on the flanks with Silva playing as a ‘10’ behind a classic #9 striker (Negredo). The formation sought to capitalize on Barca’s weakness to crossed balls (with an aerial threat in Negredo) and gave City an additional man in midfield (Silva). The Chilean’s post-sending-off changes also were very sound, playing a 4-4-1/4-2-2-1: abandoning the wing play (Navas + Kolarov) and putting bodies in the midfield (Silva + Nasri). It was in my opinion, on the night, a good display of tactics from our ex-coach.
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Sad to say however, tactics alone won’t win you matches.
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Barcelona
Barca started the match predictably: dominating possession. I don’t watch them week in and week out – which is why I was surprised to see how confusing their shape STILL tends to be when Cesc is on the team. With Fabregas listed as a CM and Iniesta playing on the left wing (and Messi dropping deep in his false 9 role), their team shape seemed very unclear to me with Iniesta and Cesc in particular, playing in the same zones.
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Barcelona started the match brightly, pinning City within their own box for the first 15 minutes of the match – only to allow City spells of possession in the first half that gave the home side confidence to attack the Catalans. The 10 minutes that followed Barca’s early dominance however was all Manchester City. Did Barca tire out in pressing for the ball to keep possession? Did Man City decide to play possum to give Barca a false sense of comfort for the first part of the match on purpose? I don’t know.
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What was clear however was that during City’s spells of possession, they really looked like a side capable of getting on the score sheet against Barca. Whether through their exchanges in passing (largely thanks to Silva and Toure), or long looped balls towards the powerful Negredo, City had a look of a side more than capable of finding the back of Victor Valdes’ goal. Thus in my view at least, Barca still desperately need to solidify their rear guard if they are to get past the likes of PSG (who blasted 4 past Bayer Leverkusen in Germany last night) in the next round.
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Outlook
It was a harsh outcome for Manchester City. Their plan seemed solid, their performance generally good and tactics well-conceived – all undone by individual errors and unfavourable refereeing decisions. They can take heart from the fact that for the second leg, any goal they score is an away goal. There is also time for them to recover the likes of Kun Aguero back for the second leg.
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As for Barca, it is a result that ought to please them greatly. They were clearly cautious in their approach to the match and despite the vulnerability they have shown during many moments of the game, they leave Manchester with 2 very valuable away goals. The tie is certainly now theirs to lose. 

1 comment:

  1. Hello Mark,
    I am a Barca fan who often read your realmadridfootballblog (rarely comments) and got to your site from there. I agree to many things you say here. But..
    It was not slightly cautious by Pellegrini, but very cautious- 2 left backs starting in a home match. I was expecting City to attack very strongly. He took his team like a small team, at home, which was unnecessary.

    True, Barca was very cautious. Our away record in CL away matches has been terrible in the last 6 years. And the mistake we used to do was attacking relentlessly exposing our back line, and that is exactly what Tata didnt do here, against a team in terrific form, this season. So Barca defended, by keeping the ball. See how there was not much attacking intent even after having a man advantage. And I am happy that we have a good away win, with this cautious approach.

    Demichilles actually marked Messi very well in the first half. He had a very difficult decision to make in that specific moment, which was also because of Kompany (his only mistake in the whole match), and you cant blame him. The fowl definitely started outside the box, but did continue inside. At the first live view, everyone was sure it was inside the box. It was only with the replays we see that it started outside and hence we cant blame the ref, when it happened so fast. May be Demichilles should have let Messi shoot. May be another ref would not have given the penalty, but the red card was inevitable for that foul. And Barca could have still scored, I mean at 0-0, Barca with a man advantage would have definitely attacked better.
    At the same time, the Pique goal dis allowing was a wrong decision too (I dont read too much into Clichy's hand ball, which was not intentional)
    Man City played well whenever they had the ball, especially when down to 10 man. So, I think the tie is not over yet, but they cant do like how they did at home, which means Barca will have more space.

    It would be nice to have a different background colour, for your page, though.

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