Manchester City came into the game after a convincing 5-0 home victory against Newcastle. Barcelona? They came into the game off the back of a shock 1-0 defeat against Malaga at the Camp Nou. On Tuesday night, it was Barcelona who looked the real deal after the Spanish and English titans clashed at the Etihad.
Pellegrini played his usual 442 formation maintaining the front four that romped against Newcastle three days ago. A back four of Clichy, Kompany, Demichelis and Zabaleta sat in front of Joe Hart in the City goal. Yaya Toure missed the game through suspension and was replaced in midfield by James Milner, Fernando took the role of compatriot Fernandinho in the other central midfield position. Nasri and Silva played wide but moved centrally at any given opportunity. Dzeko and Aguero were the two forwards.
For Barca, Luis Enrique also played the usual Barcelona 433 formation. Alba, Pique, Mascherano and Alves sat in front of Ter Stegen who took the place of Claudio Bravo. Iniesta, Busquets as pivot and Rakitic who took the place of Rafinha made the midfield trio. Messi wide right, Suarez central and Neymar wide left was the attacking trio. Barcelona enjoyed long spells of possession in the opening stages. Pellegrini tried to counteract their effective ball circulation by pressing high up the pitch. This proved rather funny though. In a bid to prevent Barca from playing out the back the Citizens rather gave them more space with their uncoordinated pressing.This picture is an illustration of this. Barcelona move the ball from right to left with Mascherano playing the ball out to Alba at leftback. This switch of play allows Barcelona to attack down the other flank evading City’s wave of pressure.
City kept their narrow 442 shape without the ball and looked to cover spaces after unsuccessful waves of pressure on the Barcelona centerbacks in their construction phase.FCB were patient as per usual in their circulation and moved the ball in deep areas awaiting spaces to open up in City’s half.
Busquets was afforded so much space in the first half which is always a bad thing. Milner and Fernando were occupied by the movements of Iniesta and Rakitic, leaving Busquets free on many occasions as City’s front two were positioned high. City were so poor in their positioning that Barcelona were in complete control of the ball. They recorded 712 passes(whoscored), and had 861 touches of the ball at the Premier League Champions home. Their second goal arrived after a long spell of passess comprising of well strung passing and movements which opened up City’s defense.
One major reason for the Catalan’s territorial dominance was their intense work when the ball was with Pellegrini’s men. Barcelona allowed the home team no time in possession and pressed in numbers to regain possession.
“Do you know how Barcelona win the ball back so quickly? It’s because they don’t have to run back more than 10 metres as they never pass the ball more than 10 metres.” – Cruyff on Barcelona’s model.
Barca’s positional play allowed them not only to dominate with the ball, but without it. Their numerical superiority when in possession meant whenever there is a turnover in possession, they have a lot of numbers to counterpress effectively and restrict opposition from having time on the ball. Their pressing unlike City in the opening minutes was well coordinated. FCB had many pressing triggers and traps. Illustrated in the photos below. Milner receives the ball facing his own goal and is quickly pressurized by Sergio Busquets who regularly occupied a higher position as Barca pressed. The forwards intelligently cut off passing options to Kompany, Zabaleta and Demichelis with their positioning.
Barcelona identified Demichelis’ passing as a weakness and often put pressure on the City defender whenever he was in possession. Here Barcelona again cut off evident passing lanes and forced the Argentine into playing a forward pass which was easily intercepted by the Spanish giants.FCB sat in a 4141 shape with Messi and Neymar dropping deeper when Man City strung passes at the back. Busquets kept a close eye on David Silva’s movements whenever he took up central positions as well.
Man City were at times to narrow which played directly into the hands of Barcelona. It’s advisable to load the middle against Barca, but in the case where you don’t cover spaces well as City did on the night, you will get punished. Alves and Alba were pushed very high when Barca had the ball and often had a lot of space to run into in the City half.Suarez’s second goal game as a result of this Messi -> Overlapping Fullback feature. Messi picked the ball from deep and run into the heart of the City’s defense pulling about five City players on him. The brilliance of Messi over the years has not only created space for himself but for many teammates as well. Here, his run gives Alba acres of space to run into, who set up Suarez with a pin-point cross.Messi was the creative spark and his multi-functional role in this game was too difficult for City. Remember Pep once called him the best defender in the world? Messi made a lot of tackles and ball recoveries from a defensive point of view. 8 recoveries in total which was more than Rakitic, Iniesta, Suarez and Neymar put together. He also had the second highest touches of the ball after Iniesta in his free role on the right wing. Messi moved a lot into the halfspace and exploited the space that opened up. Milner’s positioning in midfield in particular was poor. Conclusion
The scoreline puts Barca in a commanding position ahead of the return leg at the Camp Nou. Pellegrini blamed the players for not executing the system well rather than his tactics being wrong post-match. He’ll need his players on their best in Spain to have any chance of progressing and attaining a first ever City knock-out win in the Champions League. Barca on the other hand looked superb and could and should have scored more goals.