Manchester City slay their Barcelona-shaped Demons
I can’t imagine many people would have had City down to win this tie. For those who didn’t watch our first game against Barcelona, they could have assumed that there was a stark difference in the quality of the two sides. And for those who did, they probably pointed towards the numerous individual mistakes our players always seem destined to commit on the biggest stage.
The match itself started as thus, with City looked dangerous and very much in it (but without a goal) only for Barcelona to then score, in their habitually clinical fashion. It was classic City and the rest of the game seemed like it would be typical procedure for a Barcelona team who’ve bested us time and time again. A calculated guess for how the match would end would’ve probably been for City to continue to cave in, get a man sent off and pathetically admit defeat to a side who must come across as the impregnable gods of football to some City fans.
However, this is a different City side we are talking about. We have Pep Guardiola at the helm and I’d like to think that our players have the big cojones that’s been missing in previous teams. Zabaleta rallied the City fans as Raheem Sterling led the fight-back by driving in a smart cross for Gundogan to convert. Meanwhile, Kevin De Bruyne’s free kick early in the second half was City’s lift-off moment. Pep closed the game down smartly with his substitutes and another Gundogan goal sealed the deal.
Although some might perhaps say we caught Barcelona off-guard and the significance of this win shouldn’t be overstated; I’m inclined to disagree strongly. Tonight’s victory felt like a water-shed moment for Manchester City. A night where they proved that not only could they compete with Europe’s best, they could dominate and punish them too.
Pep Guardiola’s tactical masterclass
Guardiola’s reinstatement of Pablo Zabaleta into the first eleven raised a few eyebrows. The 32-year old Argentinian was poor in the reverse fixture and Pep had experimented with a back three in the absence of Bacary Sagna. Elsewhere, Pep played only one true winger in Sterling and instead opted for a midfield overload with Fernandinho, Gundogan, Silva and Kevin De Bruyne all starting.
Tactically, Guardiola’s instructions to the City players were clear. To press energetically from the off, get into everyone’s face and ask questions of the Barcelona players’ ability on the ball. Manchester City did so and tussled evenly with Barca until Messi drew first blood – against the run of play. But from then on, City took control and never looked back.
Pep overloaded the midfield and cut off the supply line for Barcelona’s deadly triumvirate. MSN were starved of the ball and Messi resorted to picking up the ball off his centre-backs to get hold of it. But this City side were much fitter and quicker than their counter-parts and proved it so, pressing them ragged.
Sergi Roberto, who crumbled under the pressure, played a calamitous pass across the box which Sergio Aguero intercepted. Aguero quickly played in Sterling who feinted a shot motion and crossed for Gundogan to equalise. Soon after, Aguero’s harrying and drive bought City the free-kick from which De Bruyne converted from. City’s pressing game had paid off and there was no-one to sabotage it.
While we may win a game here or there against top Europeans sides, I don’t think we could ever put in a performance like that without Guardiola. He is the brains to our brawn and his vision for this football club meant that we didn’t just beat Barcelona, we beat them at their own game.
Klutch Kevin and City’s magnificent front line
Everything seemed to click for Manchester City tonight and nowhere else did City look more impressive than they did up front. Pep’s forwards attacked Barcelona with pace and purpose. They harried and pressed and did not dither on the ball when they won it. It was quick, purposeful football and they outshone the great Messi, Neymar and Suarez in the process.
In particular, City’s top-dog De Bruyne stepped up to the mantle, proving he is quickly becoming one the most clutch players in the league. His free-kick gave City the lead but it was his performance in the second half that won City the game. He was popping-up everywhere, combining with his fellow forwards and he provided the wonderful through-ball to Navas for Gundogan’s second. It was a performance with a real statement of intent – similar to the one he gave against PSG earlier this year.
Elsewhere, Sergio Aguero gave the most complete display I have seen in the Champions League. Pep prefers his strikers to play like false 9’s, to drop deep, press and contribute defensively and that was exactly what Aguero gave today. Although he did not score (he certainly could’ve), he was my Man of the Match.