There was no love lost on Pep Guardiola’s return to Camp Nou as his Manchester City side were trounced 4-0 by Barcelona on Champions League matchday three.
City began the game brightly but fell behind in the 17th minute when a mix up in defence combined with a Fernandinho slip allowed Lionel Messi to ghost in and score.
The Blues created several chances to equalise either side of half time but their hopes of a revival were dealt a huge blow when ex-Barcelona man Claudio Bravo was sent off after 53 minutes. The goalkeeper made a hash of a clearance after racing out of his box and then deliberately handled Luis Suárez’s attempt to lob the ball into the unguarded net.
Captain Pablo Zabaleta was forced off with an injury and City’s misery was compounded further when Messi scored his second and third goals in the space of eight minutes.
Neymar could then have made it 4-0 from the penalty spot but was denied by substitute Willy Caballero. However, the Brazilian did complete the rout from open play a few minutes later.
It was a frustrating and disappointing night for Guardiola and his players but hopefully one they’ll have learned a few harsh lessons from. Somebody who certainly learned a thing or four from the game is James Cunliffe…
Taking the positives
Before the Claudio Bravo blunder that saw City go a man down early in the second-half, Barcelona were matched across the pitch. Pep Guardiola returned to his footballing home with a clear plan to press his former side man for man – and it was working.
At 11 v 11 we actually looked the better side, even at 1-0 down. Off the ball City were superb, they pinned the possession deep into Barcelona territory and forced play onto Samuel Umtiti and Marc-Andre Ter Stegen frequently. Despite a 4-0 scoreline looking like a very comfortable win for the Spanish giants, it really didn’t tell the full story.
There were plenty glimpses that gave me real optimism for the return game at the Etihad next month, two of them being Nicolás Otamendi and Raheem Sterling’s performances. The Argentine colossus was aggressive yet assured in dealing with Luis Suárez and the tricky winger showed desire and skill even when the game was all but over.
Barcelona’s build-up play from the back was admirable and taught City a lesson.
Guardiola’s side have shown calmness in defence through Premier League games this season but were outclassed on Wednesday night by the pioneers of the passing style. City threw men forward to put pressure on the Barcelona defenders but were regularly manipulated by the intricate triangles the home side created.
In contrast, City struggled when the Barcelona vultures hunted them down in their own half. We gave up possession too easily and were rightly punished for it. There’s no doubt in my mind that we will learn to master this tactic but for now it’s well to remember that we are very much in transition.
Christmas come early for Leo Messi
Lionel Messi is probably the greatest footballer to grace the planet and has worked tremendously hard to earn this reputation, so imagine his surprise when he was gifted one of the easiest hat-tricks in his life.
It was up there with Dirk Kuyt’s seven yard hat-trick in a match between Liverpool and Man United. Courtesy of a Fernandinho slip, de Bruyne’s slowness in possession and a wayward İlkay Gündoğan pass, Messi trebled his tally on the night with 20 minutes of time left.
Here’s hoping it was all part of some transfer offer to get the Argentinian to come to the Etihad next season…
Nobody guaranteed a game under Pep
When fit, Sergio Agüero is usually the first name on the team-sheet under any normal manager, but Guardiola is no sane human.
It’s the second time this week City’s top marksman has been sacrificed. Kelechi Iheanacho was opted for in the draw at Everton for better link-up play – the Nigerian tends to drop deeper than Agüero. While on Wednesday, Guardiola wanted more bodies in midfield against his old side and the de Bruyne was chosen to play in a false-9 role.
It goes to prove that game-time is never an assurance for anyone at City, not even our beloved Agüero. De Bruyne, David Silva, Sterling and Nolito all did rotate quite well in phases though – it could potentially be another system Guardiola can fall back on should Agüero suffer an injury this season.
Written by James Cunliffe
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