Manchester City and Barcelona will lock horns again on Tuesday night in Champions League Group C, just a fortnight after Pep Guardiola’s new team were beaten 4-0 by his old one in Camp Nou.
Ahead of the match, we caught up with Luis Garcia from totalBarça to get the low down on Pep, Claudio Bravo, Lionel Messi and more.
But before you read on, you should first check out what our Alex Timperley had to say when he spoke to totalBarça about City.
TC: So Luis, your question to us about Lionel Messi was an interesting one and I’m keen to get your take on it too. Just how do you stop the little genuis? Is nullifying him even possible?
LG: Well, nullifying Messi is somewhat of a laughable notion for a Barcelona fan (I’ll explain why later) but to do it, you’d have to overload the field on Messi’s side. Have one player designated to keep an eye on Messi and be ready to smother him and have the rest of the team shift ever so slightly to cut off Messi’s space. However, it’s impossible to truly nullify Messi because besides having great quality with the ball at his feet, he has a great feel for the game and will make the easy play when it presents himself. He fires off passes with such accuracy and nonchalance that even the viewer watching on TV can’t see them as an option. This is what separates Messi and makes him the best player in the world. With him, you have to pick your poison; play Barça up front and hope to withstand Messi or target him and risk him getting everyone involved and in space.
TC: Despite the fact we lost 4-0, it’s generally accepted that City’s performance at Camp Nou was probably the best we’ve ever played against Barcelona in the Champions League and it felt like we were in the game until Bravo was sent off. Did it look that way to you and are you concerned that this time, City might finally manage a win over Blaugrana?
LG: Of course it’s always a possibility, but am I concerned? No, not really. Yes, City played well, and they had good chances in the first half and beginning of the second, but at the end of the day Barcelona did win 4-0, and there’s no particular reason they can’t do it again. City are a fantastic club, and congrats on their play this season, but Barcelona are still packing the most prolific offense in Europe and the new additions like Samuel Umtiti (who had a great match in Barcelona) have stepped up in the defense. Historically, there’s no basis for a City win. City haven’t looked all that impressive and although they did have a good game, they’ve made a lot of mistakes – Bravo’s blunder and Stones’ whiffed pass against Southampton, to name the two I can think of off the top of my head – and Barça’s pressuring style is likely to force a few more.
TC: Obviously, he won’t be playing in this game, but talk to us about Claudio Bravo. City fans have been slow to take to him so far and errors like the one he made at Camp Nou haven’t helped him. He played for Barça for two seasons and seemed to be generally highly rated there. What do you think of him?
LG: I think Bravo is a fine keeper who played very well for us the two years he was here. The Chilean was a strong presence in the box who was decisive and effective. One thing, though – when I heard Pep wanted Bravo to play out of the back, I was confused. I could imagine Marc-André ter Stegen being asked to pass the ball, but over two years with us, I don’t think Bravo had made any more passes than ter Stegen would make in a week. Bravo is facing an adjustment period in the Premier League, playing a different style, more with his feet than ever before, and of course he won’t be great right away. Give him some time, and he’ll be as comfortable on the ball as he is between the sticks.
TC: Pep Guardiola is one of Barcelona’s most famous sons of recent years but there still seems to be a little bit of skepticism about his ability in England. Do you back him to be a success at City?
LG: Same as with Bravo, time is needed to pass judgement. Trust Barça (and Bayern Munich) fans, Pep is a great coach. He revolutionized the game and is great at making adjustments (like dropping Sergio Agüero, which unfortunately didn’t work out) and learning from results (Agüero will totally play next match). As you said, where in earlier years, City would have lost their spirit, Pep has them fighting and believing in themselves. That’s an accomplishment already. Anyway, many fans outside of England feel scepticism about the scepticism of his ability. Despite all the talk, aren’t City first in the Premier League? A win is a win no matter how ugly, and so far City’s been pretty good at winning. So calm down, City fans. Pep will probably win you a trophy or two.
TC: Given that you always beat us when we play each other, Barcelona seem almost indestructible to us but you’ve had a couple of poor results in La Liga this season so, obviously, that isn’t the case. Who or what are Barça’s weaknesses?
LG: Well, not to deflect the question, but Barcelona’s been plagued by the injury bug this season big time. The defence has suffered (every player has missed time or is missing right now, a list that includes Gerard Piqué, Jérémy Mathieu, Javier Mascherano, Jordi Alba, Sergi Roberto, and Samuel Umtiti) and Andrés Iniesta is out, as was Messi. This is a big reason why Barça have struggled so far. Their only real inherent weakness that couldn’t be fixed by having players actually available is a quick, speedy winger that could get in behind the defense – something that City unfortunately lacks outside of Raheem Sterling. Well, unfortunately for City, anyway.
TC: And finally, your prediction please?
LG: Round two will be closer than the last one, but Barcelona will still win it. City might score first, but Barcelona have come from behind before this year and that won’t necessarily be the tipping point in the game. Their offense will be too much for City to stop and their defense will do a decent job. Ter Stegen will have a couple of great saves, as he did last time out, but I predict a Barça victory to the tune of 1-2.
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