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article imageBarcelona capitalize on Manchester City's error in Ethiad victory

By Tyrrell Meertins     Feb 18, 2014 in Sports
Barcelona’s dominance in Europe over the past few seasons has overshadowed their cautious performances away from the Camp Nou.
The Spanish champions have recorded three road victories in the Champions League knock-out round since Pep Guardiola was appointed, and were aiming to add a new chapter to the club's history under Gerardo Martino.
However, Barcelona’s debacle against Bayern Munich last season damaged the superiority Martino’s men pose across Europe. Their trip to the Ethiad Stadium presented a great opportunity to cement their status as favourites in the competition, despite possibly losing their fear factor. “I think that maybe they don’t fear us as before because in the last two years we did not win the Champions League but I think they still respect us,” Gerard Pique said.
With Barcelona’s defensive frailties, and Manuel Pellegrini aiming to avoid a repeat of his side’s performance against Bayern Munich, a tense, yet cautious first-leg encounter was pragmatic. Barcelona fielded a predictable starting XI, while Manchester City welcomed back Fernandinho, Alvaro Negredo, Aleksandar Kolarov and Martin Demichelis to the lineup.
Although Pellegrini stated that he wasn’t solely thinking about defending, his overall approach differed – yet it was logical. Kolarov played ahead of Gael Clichy to prevent Dani Alves from pushing forward, while Jesus Navas’ presence left Jordi Alba reluctant on surging into advanced positions. Likewise, City maintained a high-block when Barcelona opted to play out the back, with their full-backs man-marking Barcelona’s wide players, while Fernandinho pressed Xavi and Yaya Toure closed down Cesc Fabregas. A great example of their high-block succeeding was when Xavi was dispossessed ahead of the 18-yard box, but Negredo fired his shot directly at Victor Valdes.
Barcelona struggled to assert their dominance in the first half, as Lionel Messi constantly dropped deep into midfield, and was quickly closed down by Demichelis in the final third. City was comfortable sitting on the edge of their box, as Martino’s unadventurous approach lacked guile, despite Fabregas and Iniesta nonchalantly gliding past challenges towards goal. Apart from a Xavi shot from distance and Demichelis admirably ushering Alexis Sanchez wide of goal, Martino’s men rarely harmed Pellegrini’s side.
City, on the other hand, created a few issues for Barcelona’s back-line through David Silva, who expertly drifted between the lines and into pockets of space. Silva received a pass from Vincent Kompany – similar to the Belgian’s delivery that ignited Samir Nasri’s goal against Chelsea over the weekend – and played a key ball to Negredo, but his chipped shot bounced across the six-yard box. Afterwards, he sprayed a pass towards Jesus Navas, and the Spaniard’s cross led to Negredo guiding his header wide of the goal.
However, despite City’s positive display in the first-half, Barcelona pounced on Navas’ naivety in possession. The Spaniard’s attempt to take on two Barcelona players led to Iniesta obtaining possession – with City’s back-line caught out of position – and playing a breathtaking ball to Messi, which resulted in Demichelis’ dismissal and a penalty.
Being reduced to 10 men enabled Barcelona to dominate the match, but forced Pellegrini to introduce Joleon Lescott for Kolarov – also, Nasri replaced Navas. This opened up space for Alves to finally impact the match from right-back, and with Silva often drifting centrally, Lescott was forced to protect Clichy.
Subsequently, City became a 4-4-1 out of possession with Silva positioned on the left flank, and it posed more problems for Martino’s men as the Spaniard and Nasri drifted into pockets of space. Although Xavi negated Toure’s threat in midfield – forcing him to sit deeper – City created a handful of chances to equalize.
Silva continuously posed a threat in the final third, and he nearly nicked a goal for the home side when he coolly controlled Zabaleta’s one-time pass on his chest, and volleyed his shot on target, but Valdes made an exceptional save to preserve Barcelona’s lead. Silva’s silky movement transitioning defence into attack, and he constantly provided a creative link, but City lacked quality in the final third.
Incomplete passes, and inane fouls summarized Lescott’s night, as the City centre back failed to provide astute protection on the left side. Lescott was dragged out of position on two occasions, which resulted in Alves' opportunities. Alves’ initial shot was inches wide of the post, and in the dying minutes of the match the Brazilian doubled Barcelona’s lead.
"Barcelona had a lot of the ball but they had it where we wanted. They were not near our area; that's what we wanted. The team played with courage, with personality, and tried to draw the match with ten men," Pellegrini said.
Martino’s conservative approach reaped rewards, but Demichelis’ dismissal swayed the tactical battle. Pellegrini’s men stifled the Catalan side, and Alves’ second half impact signified that the Chilean’s tactics were wise.
More about Manchester city, Barcelona, Lionel messi, Champions League, Uefa
 
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