analysis | 2016-11-02
Manchester City 3:1 Barcelona - Pep Guardiola exposes Barça's flaws
Barcelona fails to score the second goal when ManCity was at the ropes and then gave the game out of it's hands. In the end, Pep Guardiola's plan worked out just fine this time and exploited Barça's weaknesses
It's easier to compliment an opponent when you've just defeated him. Pep Guardiola was full of pride after the game, of course he was, his Manchester City side just won against Barcelona; not just any team, but "the best team in the world", as Guardiola said.
Maybe not everybody would agree with him at the moment, not after watching the full 90 minutes against Granada at the weekend and the second half against Manchester City. But Guardiola spoke in general and in particular about the first half at the Etihad. "For the first 38 minutes we saw the best team in the world," the Catalan claimed, "Barcelona changed their centre-backs to make diagonal balls to the full backs and we were in real trouble."
A good first half isn't enough
Indeed, Barça played a strong 40 minutes, but then Sergi Roberto gave the ball away recklessly to serve City the equaliser on a silver plate. Until then, Guardiola's side looked - after they conceded the Messi goal from a brilliant counter-attack - vulnerably, fragile, mentally not prepared against a big opponent. City could've easily conceded a second and third goal, they were on the ropes, but Barcelona let them breathe, didn't finish the game when they had the chance to - and then invited them back into the game. "They have the chance to score the second goal and, if they had, the game is done, finished," Guardiola noted, "but football is like this. Our goal changed everything for our mood. The players realised the bad moment is over."
And Barcelona realised it's not going to be a walk in the park again. With new found confidence, City again pressed Barça high up the pitch, forced errors and hit them where it hurts them most.
Luis Enrique knew that too. "The first few minutes we played really well, it is a shame after the error we made for the first goal, from then on we had a bad time," Barcelona's manager concluded at the press conference. "When you concede a goal in that way it is normal you go through a bad period after that and in the second half we hoped to continue to dominate but because of errors we made and pressure from the opponents, we didn’t have as much possession. City took advantage of our errors. The first 40 minutes for us, the next 50 for them. The score reflected that."
"City come back against a disconnected Barça"
This time, Guardiola's plan worked out perfectly. High pressing - already applied at the Camp Nou - brought Barça in deep trouble. The English press noticed that as well and gave Pep credit. The Mirror said: "Guardiola built Barcelona's software and showed he can expose their glitches", while The Telegraph noted: "Pep Guardiola masterminds City's comeback". Meanwhile in Barcelona, newspaper Sport saw a "City come back against a disconnected Barça". The question is: Why is Barcelona so disconnected, especially in midfield?
In Busquets' and Iniesta's absence, Barcelona already struggled to dominate play from central midfield against Granada. But you can say they just did enough against a dull and harmless opponent.
Are we still debating whether Barcelona have central midfield passing issues?— 11tegen11 (@11tegen11) 30. Oktober 2016
Or can we move to debating the reasons behind it?#passmap pic.twitter.com/Dh8KHetPsY
But against Manchester City, the former strenght of the Catalans once again became a weakness - even tho Busquets returned to the line-up. Luis Enrique has to put some serious work into this matter, because without the usually dominant midfield, MSN runs out of service, as witnessed in the second half against the English club.
More fuel for the debate about Barcelona's central midfield passing.— 11tegen11 (@11tegen11) 1. November 2016
This time with Busquets physically present.#passmap pic.twitter.com/FIrvxkqFdY
Guardiola knew this and exploited Barcelona's flaws by putting huge pressure on the struggling Busquets, who's out of form for a couple of weeks if not probably months now. For Pep, this win was much more than just three points.
"This was a display that brought the future under Guardiola's leadership into clearer view", observed the BBC, "this was the night Guardiola's principles and players came together in a manner which should send a surge of confidence and self-belief through the manager, his squad and the club."
Although Guardiola was very satisfied with a win against the best team in the world, he insisted he didn't take extra satisfaction from beating his boyhood club Barça. "I am happy for City. I am happy we got three points - but I am not more happy because we beat the club I love so much," Guardiola said. At Barcelona, they aren't exactly happy at the moment - they have to figure out how to make their midfield work again, because Iniesta will be out for a couple of weeks longer.
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.