Three at the back?
Initially, I scoffed at the suggestion that we’ll play three at the back against Barcelona. Why on earth would you play such an unfamiliar system against the best team in the world? That’d be madness, surely? Well, as odd an as illogical as this may sound – the more I think about it, the more I can see us doing it. City Watch learned earlier this week that we’ve actually been working on a back three in training for some time now, and it was only a matter of time before it was deployed in a competitive match.
To play with a back three successfully (in the more traditional sense) you need to have fast attacking wing-backs who can hare up and down either flank. Take Juventus for instance, who are an excellent example of how to play a back three, where the trio of Barzagli-Bonucci-Chiellini are flanked by the pace merchants Dani Alves and Alex Sandro. City simply don’t have this type of player in the squad, unfortunately. All of our full-backs are thirty plus and lack the requisite energy/guile to play that position.
Pep being Pep though, found a way around this problem. Against Everton on Saturday, he played Sterling and Sané in the auxiliary wing-back roles – but they were anything but wing-backs. Both players played extremely high and wide in an attempt to pin Everton’s full-backs right back – and it worked. Put simply, the system gives you a much better chance of retaining the ball, and that’s exactly why I think Guardiola will go for it on Wednesday night. He will go the Nou Camp wanting to dominate possession and against the brilliance of Barcelona, this is probably the best means of doing so.
The latest injury news is that Fabian Delph and Bacary Sagna were the only absentees from Tuesday morning’s training session, giving Guardiola pretty much a full compliment to pick from. Vincent Kompany is fit again and should be fresh, after his spectacular cameo at the weekend. In all seriousness though, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him from the start. Stylistically, he’s perfect for a back three and could replace Gael Clichy – fitness permitting.
As I’ve already said, I think it’ll be a back three – which would mean Otamendi, Kompany and Stones. The only real concern (apart from Kompany’s injury problems) is the lack of a left-footed centre half. Ideally, you’d want to have at least one left footer, purely for the purposes of balance, but that anxiety is nothing when compared with the prospect of Messi and Neymar against Zabaleta and Kolarov. I’d rather we take a (big) risk and try and impose ourselves against Barcelona.
As for the rest of the team, I think much of it will be the same. The only exceptions are Nolito and Aguero – who I expect to return for Sané and Kelechi respectively. There’s every chance we’ll look back on this match as an opportunity missed or we’ll rue our naivety, but the truth is – Guardiola won’t be looking to shut-up shop at the Camp Nou, he’ll be looking to dominate. So, it’s better that we make peace with ourselves now. It’ll be a frantic attacking approach, whatever the formation.
With all that in mind, here is how I think City will line up:
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