Manchester City have advanced through the Champions League group stages on three occasions, and last season was their best by reaching the Semi-Finals where they lost to Real Madrid 1-0 on aggregate. The two years before that City lost out to Barcelona both times losing 4-1 and 3-1 on aggregate both times respectively. It’s no secret that City have been unlucky in the Champions League draw, and this year it has been the same, but if City are to fulfil their aspirations to become the best team in the world, then they have to take these types of games by the scruff of the neck. Last season City were woeful in the game at The Bernanbeu, and it will be no easy task in Catalonia.
The bad news for City is that Lionel Messi is back for Barcelona and when he is at his best it is virtually impossible to stop him, as it is with his team-mates finishing off the MSN partnership, Luis Suarez and Neymar. Last time the two sides met Luis Suarez scored two at The Etihad and Sergio Aguero pulled one back before Joe Hart saved Lionel Messi’s penalty, and it was Ivan Rakitić who lifted the ball over Joe Hart to secure the win for Barcelona. The key to Barcelona’s success has been the MSN trio up front, and the stats don’t lie.
Messi has been the standout player in the phenomenal strike force of himself, Suarez and Neymar.
In the 2014/15 season and the 2015/16 season, the three South American superstars have scored 171 league goals between them, with several more coming in cup competitions both domestically and in the Champions League. However, Barcelona are beatable, and current City player Nolito knows that more than anyone. In the 2015/16 season Nolito then at Celta Vigo beat Barcelona 4-1 with the Spanish international on the score-sheet himself. Barcelona also lost 4-3 several weeks ago against Celta again, showing that this star studded team is beatable.
So how do City beat Barcelona ?
No doubt the Citizens will find it hard, but the best way in which team have beaten Barca before is by sitting deep and hitting them on the counter-attack. Whilst Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano are two of the finest centre halves in Europe, they both lack pace, and if City can utilise the pace Sterling, Agüero and Sané. However, Guardiola will want his side to have possession, so it is unlikely he will sit deep. In the 1-1 draw against Everton, City opted for a three at the back system which is something Guardiola did in his second year at Bayern when he faced Barcelona at the Allianz Arena, and Bayern won the second leg 3-2, however they had already lost the first leg. Could Guardiola opt for this system again. The advantages of this 3-5-2/3-3-2-2-1 formation Guardiola played is that it allows City to open up the pitch and always have options to pass the ball to. It also alows for an effective counter attack when City win the ball back. This could be the best way, as it will ope up the pitch for City, and with the Camp Nou being a large pitch, City could open Barcelona up with their pace. The system offers five defenders when City don’t have the ball, and three defenders when City do have the ball, but in order to play this way City will need to sacrifice one of Leroy Sané or Raheem Sterling in order to cope defensively, putting Clichy at left-back with either Kompany or Aleks Kolarov at centre back. Personally i would drip Sterling, as Sané is equally as quick but tracks back more frequently and is more of a physical presence due to his height.
This will be the fifth time City have faced Barca in the Champions League in three years, having lost all previous meetings, conceding seven and scoring only 2 in the process.
The good news for City is Kevin De Bruyne is back, as is Vincent Kompany, but throwing his skipper into a game of this magnitude straight back from injury could be deemed too risky. Agüero and De Bruyne will have to get over their penalty woes if they are to be on top form in midweek. One factor perhaps underestimated is that City will go into the game with a different mentality. The last visits to Barcelona it seemed that City went there already thinking that they had lost, whereas this year Guardiola won’t allow that. He will have every player going into the game thinking that they can get a result, which is the mentality the need to have.
With that all said if Messi, Suarez and Neymar turn up then they are unstoppable, arguably the three best players in the world with the exception of Cristiano Ronaldo, they will be the ones that decide the game, simply by just whether or not they decide to turn on the flair. It’s going to be a cracking game, and i predict that Barcelona will win 2-1.
This article was written by Ben Tipper. Twitter – @bentippermcfc
Featured Image Credit: Cléria De Souza