In what will go down as a historic night for Manchester City Football Club, they stepped up to the occasion. A Pep Guardiola masterclass in the second half, as City dominated Barcelona, something which many people would have doubted two weeks ago. So how did City produce one of their finest performances at The Etihad?
Firstly, they pressed. They pressed Barcelona every time they had the ball and that led to their opening goal of the night. Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva pressing Sergi Roberto led to a stray pass from the make-shift right back, which Sergio Agüero pounced upon laying it on to Raheem Sterling, who squared it perfectly to Ilkay Gündogan who made no mistake about the finish. The fist 40 minutes Barcelona dominated, and city scored against the run of play. In the second half their third goal came from a combination of pressing and counter-attacking. From the Barcelona corner they were pressed up to a point where they lost the ball and City countered expertly with the German midfielder getting his fourth goal in his last two games. In the second half City had chance after chance after chance. Agüero, De Bruyne, Fernandinho and Sterling in particular all having good chances to score, all coming from pressing Barcelona at the back.
Ilkay Gündogan was exceptional, he was up and down the pitch and finished both of his goals expertly. Looking back it seems a bargain for £20 million whereas United alone paid Paul Pogba’s agent £24 million. He went into tackles, spread passes around the pitch and pressed Barca to the max, and if City are to excel in the Premier League and in Europe, then they will need to keep the German on form and in mint condition. His partnership with Fernandinho and Fernando in the second half who himself put in a solid second half performance paid dividends for City, as they didn’t let Barcelona play through the middle where they can kill teams off with ease. He gave City something they have lacked in years gone by which is energy in the middle of the park, and at times made Messi and Neymar drop deep to receive the ball, making them revert to long balls which Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones were able to collect comfortably.
Gündogan was exceptional for City, scoring two on the night.
Solid at the back.
Although City conceded first from a Barcelona counter attack, neither Messi, Suarez or Neymar really had a sniff at goal. Otamendi and Stones despite one dreadful back pass marshalled Suarez brilliantly, making a fantastic block in the first half in particular. In the second half they were all over Suarez, beating him to the ball whenever it was played into the Uruguayan. Aleks Kolarov who has rightfully so had his critics did a fantastic a job on Messi, not allowing him space to come in, and forcing him out wide isolating him. On the other side it was Zabaleta keeping Neymar quiet. With the exception of his assist for Messi’s goal, the Brazilian had litte impact on the game. One thing that is certain is that they didn’t miss skipper Vincent Kompany, which will no doubt provide rumors surrounding his future at the club. Bar two or three tips from crosses, Willy caballero didn’t have a save to make, showing how well defensively City played.
John Stones and Aleks Kolarov were exceptional for City, keeping Suarez and Messi at bay for most of the game.
De Bruyne in the middle.
Moving De Bruyne into the middle of the park was what changed the game. He was wasted on the left flank and when he got the ball in the centre he was able to create chances and run at players which opened up more space for David Silva, Sergio Agüero and Raheem Sterling. It must be said that Sterling was outrageously booked in the first half for simulation, despite Samuel Umtiti clearly stepping on Sterlings foot, in what should have been a penalty to the Blues. In order to get the best out of De Bruyne, City need to play him in the hole behind the striker where he is more effective, as he is easily one of the best number 10’s in world football if not the best. Against Barcelona he ran his socks off, closing down, taking players on, drawing a few fouls and linking the play together, topped off by a fantastic free kick.
Messi scored but was unable to change the game for the Catalan side.
Perhaps an underestimated factor here. The referee had a poor game to say the least, giving outrageous decisions in favour of Barcelona, and allowing Sergio Busquets and Lucas Digne to commit at least two fouls without booking then but booking Otamendi immediately after one which was the other way around anyway as it was a foul by Luis Suarez on Otamendi himself. Ever since the game against Chelsea in 2009 labelled a ‘conspiracy’ by Didier Drogba, Barcelona have constantly been branded as a team who often have decisions given there way by the officials, and that was no different tonight, with every small decisions such as free kicks and bookings going their way, and the big decision of not awarding a penalty to City. In spite of this City maintained composure too not vent their anger at the referee, and continued to play their game, where you could say they played Barcelona at their own game!
An excellent all round deserved win for City!
This article was written by Ben Tipper. Twitter – @bentippermcfc
Feature Image credit: Cléria De Souza