analysis | 2016-10-20
Match Report - Barcelona 4:0 Manchester City - One side has Messi, the other does not
Pep Guardiola gets a trashing with Manchester City on his second homecoming to Barcelona - but his overall plan worked this time
“It was in many ways a very strange game, because Manchester City - until Claudio Bravo got sent off - looked competitive and at times even the better side”. This might sound a bit strange after a 4-0-thrashing, but it was the summary of BT Sport presenter and former Barcelona forward Gary Lineker right after the final whistle, and frankly you couldn’t really disagree with him.
City caused Barça several problems, especially in the end of the first half, when they had at least three good if not great chances to score the equaliser. Their early pressing from the very beginning put Barça on their back foot, playing long balls to their three forwards at times because they couldn’t service MSN in their usual way, causing a rather frantic first half of the Spanish champions. After 45 minutes, Neymar, Messi and Suarez had completed only 20 passes between them. Proof enough that Guardiola’s tactics worked.
ManCity destroyed by Messi and their own mistakes
But Manchester City’s biggest problem was, besides their finishing, that they destroyed what they build by themselves. Not only with Bravo’s blunder, who killed the game, but already when they let Lionel Messi score his first goal. Fernandinho slipped, and everybody in the City defense just stood there ball watching. Only Messi reacted to the sudden opportunity and fooled his former teammate Bravo by rounding the keeper and slotting it home.
As good as City looked in attack, as overchallenged and thoughtless they looked in defense. John Stones, Aleksandar Kolarov and Nicolas Otamendi didn’t have their finest day to say the least. Three of four goals were served to Barcelona on a silver plate, the third of the hattrick of individual mistakes was Gündogan’s unnecessary back pass to Stones, who didn’t show any real interest in getting the ball - unlike Suárez, who went after it and squared it to Messi who completed his hattrick.
"We've given a lot to our opponents”, stated a disappointed Pep Guardiola, meaning not only against Barça but in the recent games, “Starting in Glasgow, the own goal against Tottenham, and missing penalties (against Everton)". Pep’s overall game plan was pretty good, and bold - considering he left out City’s best striker, Kun Aguero. But when the team collapses under the (mental) pressure, there’s not much a coach can do on the sideline.
Guardiola: "The more these Barça players have the ball, the more damage they do"
“There were two ways to approach the game. We could have sat back, and we could have won or lost doing that - but I don't know how to play that way and I don't want to play that way," Guardiola explained in his post-match press conference. So he went out attacking, leaving out Aguero to have an extra man on the midfield, more players against and on the ball. And it worked, until Fernandinho slipped and Bravo blundered. "The more these Barça players have the ball, the more damage they do. It's difficult to play against these players when you have 11 men. With 10, it was over.”
Some would say as long as Barça has Messi, it’s over for you pretty much every time you visit the Camp Nou anyway, but that’s a different story. Although he didn’t have one of his finest days and yet managed to score three goals. Something that is more scary than the fact he marked his 41st hattrick of his career (needless to say it’s more than any other player in activity has).
In Barcelona, the newspapers - as usual sounding more like fan opinions than like independent journalist views - went crazy with their headlines. Sport showed Messi in his well-known ‘thanking higher powers’ goal scoring pose and titled “My god!”, while Mundo Deportivo went a step further, shouting down from their cover “El Puto Amo”, something like “The f*cking boss”. He was the boss again, if only by his sheer goal tally - although one should note the exquisite performances by Samuel Umtiti and Marc-André ter Stegen, probably Barça’s best players. Messi certainly made the difference again, he and the wobbly nerves of Manchester City’s players. Süddeutsche Zeitung put it in nice fashion: “Soulmates have faced each other, two teams who like to play in the opposition half. But only one half has Messi - the other doesn’t.”
"Guardiola got it badly wrong over key decisions"
The English media will now debate if Guardiola’s new team is ready enough to challenge the big teams in the Champions League and if it was the right decision to leave Kun Aguero out. The Guardian said "Guardiola paid the price for keeping Sergio Aguero from the reunion" with his friend Messi. And The Mirror criticised City’s coach by saying: “Some of the damage was self-inflicted as this defeat will perhaps strip away some of Guardiola’s aura. Guardiola must take responsibility for the tactics which ultimately undermined City as the former Barcelona boss got it badly wrong over key decisions.” Kevin De Bruyne playing as a false nine and “did not get the best out of their brilliant Belgian either”. Then the newspaper added what many will think after the harsh trashing at the Camp Nou: “Guardiola discovered that City are a long way off being able to compete with a European superpower like Barcelona.”
Guardiola might agree, since he didn’t get tired pointing out before the game that his new team is lacking history and experience in the Champions League - something Barcelona clearly doesn’t. This game was proof again. But to be fair, not only Gary Lineker reckoned the result was somewhat weird, Guardiola had the same opinion. The Catalan said: “I feel we weren't as bad as the result says.”
Anything wrong? Send your correction.
WRITTEN BY: Alex Truica
Creator of The Pep Episodes. Has a Bachelor degree in journalism and works as a freelance sports journalist and editor, covering international football.