It’s déjà vu for Manchester City, as the Premier League holders come up against Barcelona in the Champions League second round for the second time in as many seasons. The Sky Blues lost both legs against the Catalan giants in 2013/14, but tonight’s meeting promises to see a different outcome.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini has matured a lot this season. No longer is he setting up his sides too open and attacking in the big European games, and it’s led to City’s progression into the second round, as well being favoured by many to see past Barcelona over two legs. They beat AS Roma and Bayern Munich in their last two group outings to book their place in the next round in dramatic fashion.
There’s finally some balance in the team that means City can still play free-flowing football, but also have the bodies in the midfield to help nullify Barcelona‘s threat. Is it any coincidence their only two Champions League group game victorious this season have come when scrapping the two strikers tactic?
When facing a side that boast high-levels of possession, playing two strikers is redundant. The battle in the middle of the park should always be priority, and Pellegrini finally sees that. Man City’s chances of winning have also been boosted by the absence of Yaya Toure oddly enough.
The Ivorian is a handful in attack, but he’s too immobile defensively against the fast-paced passing style Barcelona adopt. City cannot carry any player in the side against the world’s best, and Toure cannot operate successfully as a holding midfielder against the best ball retainers.
So in his absence, the likes of James Milner (if fit) and Fernando could be brought in, two players who offer much more industry and urgency to their place to nullify first, provide creative flair later. Losing the ball in the middle of the park against Barcelona can often prove fatal, but the aforementioned duo could be key to ensure in doesn’t happen. They certainly played their part in the wins over Roma & Bayern.
There’s then the matter of Barcelona’s vulnerability. Paris Saint-Germain beat them in France in the group stages, and Malaga, Real Madrid, Getafe and Real Sociedad have all taken points off Barca when the Catalan giants are the travelling side. They will be wary of Man City’s threat at the Etihad. The Sky Blues have won 5, drawn 5, and lost 3 of their 13 Champions League games played at home, so they’re certainly hard to beat in front of their own fans.
Will it see them winning against Barcelona tonight?