Our European football scribe takes a look at Tuesday's Champions League tie between Manchester City and Barcelona.
In what promises to be a gargantuan encounter in this week’s Champions League, perennial contenders Barcelona travel to Manchester in a bid to secure their seemingly inevitable progress to the knockout stages of the competition. City know that they can ill afford another embarrassment akin to the one they experienced at the Nou Camp. The 4-0 score-line didn’t flatter a Barcelona side that turned it up to 11. Pep Guardiola will have no doubt learnt something from that humbling experience and will be looking to neutralize the threat posed by Barca’s vaunted attacking trio.
Manchester City v Barcelona | Tuesday 1 October | Etihad Stadium | 21:45
To Win (90 Mins)
Man City 7/4 | Draw 5/2 | Barcelona 27/20
City showed against West Brom what can happen if they are able to get an early foothold in a game. Sergio Aguero’s surprise omission from the starting eleven at the Nou Camp was one of the huge sub-plots of the first encounter. There were rumors of a potential rift between Guardiola and Aguero, fuelling speculation of a potential summer departure. He was brilliant on Saturday and Guardiola has assuaged fans by stating that he most definitely will start this week. This week is going to be an awfully different proposition however, with Barcelona likely to have hegemony of possession.
Perhaps the heavy defeat to Barca was a necessary wake-up call for this ambitious side. City - so obsessed with retaining possession - looked uncomfortable pressing the ball and looked severely exposed on the counterattack. His 4-1-4-1 system is all well and good within the context of a game you dominate. But when Messi is running from deeper areas, Fernandinho’s task is virtually impossible without some support. Gundogan was magnificent at the weekend but is essentially a luxury midfield option. The only midfield player with similar rigour to Fernandinho is Fernando. But it’s fair to say that he has been quite unimpressive when giving the opportunity this season.
Barcelona have been reinvigorated since the return of Messi and have an excellent record against the Citizens. They seem to have found some much needed defensive resolve, with Umtiti looking like the sleeper signing of the summer. Jordi Alba is unlikely to start, which will likely see impressive Digne start for the Catalan giants. Gerard Pique is also injured, meaning that Mascherano will likely partner Umtiti as Mathieu remains sidelined. So there is something resembling a defensive crisis. Luckily, Lionel Messi has been in fabulous form in this competition, scoring five goals in his last two outings. The way he monopolized that vacant space in front of City’s back four at the Nou Camp was mesmerizing. He will clearly be the focal point of the Barca juggernaut as they look to bury the group and give their squad some leeway in the remaining fixtures.
Barcelona - fashioned in large part by Pep Guardiola’s borderline maniacal fixation with possession - will set out in their regular 4-3-3 formation and can have it both ways. They are clearly the best side in Europe at recycling the ball, but they may actually be at their most deadly on the break. As I said, there is a lack of defensive acumen in the City midfield which can be exploited. You can fully expect to see Fernandinho having to over-commit as City scramble. Andres Iniesta is also on the injured list and this may see the dynamic Rafinha come into the midfield.
Verdict: Halftime-Fulltime Double – Drawn/Barcelona 52/10
City will be looking to build on a decent result at the weekend and may be able to contain Barca for a half. I expect the sides to maybe go to the break at 1-1, with the pace and vision of Sterling and De Bruyne keeping them in the contest. But ultimately I expect Barcelona’s relentless perseverance to pay off.
Written by Damian Kayat for @Hollywoodbets