A Harsh Lesson for Manchester City
This was self-sabotage on the highest level. Sure, judging by the scoresheet Barcelona looked like they had cruised past us and sure four goals in a different context could be considered a thrashing but today we saw a Manchester City side that literally grabbed a shotgun and shot themselves in the foot. The truth is that City did not perform that poorly and had in fact played a very decent game.
For much of the match, and definitely up until Claudio Bravo’s red card, City and Barca were neck and neck. A freak slip from Fernandinho that allowed Messi to waltz in to score his first was the only difference between two high-quality sides for over fifty minutes. City’s midfield matched Barcelona’s and Gundogan and Stones had very good chances to bring City level. On the flanks, Nolito and Sterling enjoyed lots of times and space with Barcelona’s makeshift full-backs struggling to keep them at bay. It was only until the absolute clusterfuck of Bravo’s sending off and the following individual mistakes did City crumble under a ruthless Barcelona strike force. Lionel Messi and co. punished City for every error and saw to it that City had no chance of taking anything from the game.
Pep Guardiola will be devastated at the manner in which his players surrendered a game they were very much in, giving away meek goals and letting Barcelona completely off the hook. Tonight’s loss was his joint heaviest in his career and is a timely reminder that his project here in Manchester is still very much a work in progress.
Individual mistakes haunt Manchester City
Of the four goals conceded, City’s back four can hold their hands up to three of them as well as the penalty which Neymar duly conceded. Far too often on the biggest stages, City’s players surrender the playing field to supposedly superior team ever so frustratingly. We’ve seen this countless times, where horrible errors counterweight good performances and completely knock the wind out of any possible comeback. Martin Demichelis’ red card against Barcelona in 2014 or even Fernando’s own goal against Real Madrid in the semi-final earlier this year are testament to that. When City need just one stroke of good luck, just one moment where TypicalCityitis does not prevail, it just never seems to happen.
Four City players have now been sent off against Barcelona in only five games after Claudio Bravo handled the ball outside the box. Contrary to popular opinion, Claudio Bravo’s mispass was uncharacteristic of his time at City – which made it all the more exasperating. Bravo’s passing has been spotless so far and the Chilean who has had more touches than Aguero, only misplaced two passes in the league. For him to shimmy a soft pass at the feet of the best striker in the world is scandalous and was only bettered by his feinted slap of the ball which was the easiest pick of the day for the referees.
But then again Fernandinho’s slip, Stones’ delay in reading a pass or even Kolarov’s foul on Messi for the penalty were all mistakes just as nauseating. You could virtually place the horrible mistakes right beside each other on a scale of Really Fucking Awful to Shambolically Bad.
Time-out for Aguero
I said in my last What We Learned that the time for Aguero to be given a breather on penalty duty had come to fruition and today it seemed that Guardiola not only duly obliged on my request but took it one step further and kept him benched all together. As I said, it’s been a tough few weeks for Sergio Aguero. He’s missed some penalties, took the brunt of the stick for Argentina’s qualifying woes and is now seemingly out of favour with his club coach. But was not playing him really the right move?
Pep’s striker-less formation raised a few eyebrows but to be honest, every second Pep Guardiola formation seems to do so too. I can’t remember the last time Aguero was benched for two games in a row and I’d bet he doesn’t remember either. Of course, Aguero is not renowned for his pressing and tracking back so perhaps Pep thought it would be better to have De Bruyne there instead, alternating with Nolito and David Silva. But then again David Silva doesn’t get up and down the pitch quickly either and it raises the question of whether Guardiola is still punishing Aguero for playing for Argentina whilst carrying an injury.
El Kun would’ve done a very fine job up-top as he has the required prerequisites of a striker playing at a tough European ground. He holds the ball up, has a good record against his opponents and will gobble any chances that comes his way – that aren’t penalties of course. So did Pep make a mistake by not starting him and is he ruing that decision? I’d like to think so.