Luis Enrique’s men travelled to Manchester knowing that they were facing a team that are very much a work in progress under Pep Guardiola’s management, but definitely knew that they are a very dangerous side. With multiple injuries within the squad, to think that City could get something from Wednesday’s game was in no way unthinkable.
If a football match lasted 38 minutes, Barcelona would have flown back to El Prat airport with a simple win and feeling very proud of their performance, but unfortunately a football match lasts 90 minutes, and Manchester City showed how important momentum and confidence can be, and how a game can change within small margins of error.
Barcelona looked much better than Pep’s side in the first phase of the match, even after a penalty scare which resulted in Raheem Sterling being booked for simulation when it seemed that a penalty could easily have been given. Barça’s dominance resulted in a fine reward with Lionel Messi finishing off a brilliant counter attacking move.
The men in purple looked in complete control after the goal, even to a point where the Barça fans (including myself) in the heights of the Etihad Stadium had started the ‘Olé’ treatment as the ball was pinged around the pitch with City chasing shadows.
Barça looked dangerous every time they entered the attacking third, with André Gomes particularly standing out as a good first half performer considering his recent form, along with the usual suspects creating some very good opportunities. Neymar forced a decent save from Willy Caballero at the near post, Gomes had a shot blocked which came out to Sergi Roberto who clipped a beautiful pass onto Messi’s left boot but Luis Suárez couldn’t shape his body to direct his header towards the City goal.
These fine margins in the game of football are always important, and mistakes are one of the margins that can be very costly. Barcelona’s 38 minutes of dominance were over, Sergi Roberto played a loose ball at the back straight to Sergio Agüero who gave the ball to Sterling, the Englishmen squared it to İlkay Gündoğan to finish off a goal that looked exactly like the goals you would see at Pep’s Barcelona back in the day. City were back in a game that looked like it could have been a walk in the park for the Blaugrana, and they were full of belief.
The teams went in at half time at 1-1, but it was a first half in which Barcelona could and probably should have been in a winning position, but since that equalising goal, Barça never looked the same.
Just five minutes into the second period, Sergio Busquets gave away a foul in a very dangerous position for Kevin De Bruyne, who hit a perfect strike with power and swerve past Marc-André Ter Stegen. The Etihad went crazy, the fans, who were very quiet within the first 38 minutes, were spurring their team on and City looked full of energy.
Another one of those small margins in the game came in the 64th minute. Luis Suárez ran onto a misplaced pass from John Stones, nutmegged Nicolás Otamendi, and squared it to an open André Gomes. Gomes struck the ball cleanly, but smashed the bar. On another day, the shot could easily have hit the underside of the crossbar and gone in, but it wasn’t to be. A few inches lower, and the game would have been completely different and you would’ve fancied Barça to go on and win it.
City went on to score another through Gündoğan, and although it seemed the ball struck Agüero’s arm in the build up, the Citizens made it 3-1 and completed a historic win for their evolving football club.
The word that comes up every time Barcelona lose a game is ‘crisis’, and while Wednesday’s result is in no way the start of a crisis, the problems are very clear.
Sergio Busquets is suffering, somewhat due to form, and somewhat due to the midfield shape, or lack of shape. When Busi got the ball in crucial positions, he never seemed to have the passing options that he should have, the interiors seemed very vertical, where they should be horizontal and opening up passing options.
On top of this, the lack of Gerard Piqué is very clear. Without him, the defence doesn’t seem to have a leader, despite the presence of Javier Mascherano. Piqué has the qualities of leading by example, keeping his surrounding players calm and, obviously, being a very good player.
It will be interesting to see how the team react as they face a very difficult task this weekend against Jorge Sampaoli’s Sevilla at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, a Sevilla team who are looking brilliant this season and should be taken very seriously, especially after their victory over Atlético Madrid in week 9.
After a poor performance against Granada despite the 1-0 win and the result in Manchester, Barcelona have no time to feel sorry for themselves and will have to produce a massive performance in Seville to avoid the Spanish media buzzword ‘crisis’ from appearing on the Catalan front pages.