Review: Disappointment in Manchester

Barcelona's Argentinian defender Javier Mascherano, Barcelona's Argentinian striker Lionel Messi and Barcelona's Brazilian striker Neymar react following the UEFA Champions League group C football match between Manchester City and Barcelona at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England on November 1, 2016. / AFP / PAUL ELLIS (Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

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.

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  • john

    Barcelona lost to Man City can be attributed to several factors. Definitely one of the best first half performance all season. However, Barcelona have had a tendency of coming into second half games lackadaisically over the years. Athletic Madrid season winning title game against Barcelona is another example of that under Tata Martino. In that game. Barcelona when in at half time with 1-0 lead, with needing a win to secure the title. Starting second half Atlhetico Madrid scored of a corner kick tying the game, and winning the title with the final result 1-1. Barcelona never responded after conceding that goal, credit to Athletic gamesmanship and defense.
    In my opinion Barcelona lost Tuesday night champions league game. After the Rakitic substitution. Despite the player not having his best game, and being 2-1. Barcelona could have easily equalize the game. What Rakitic provides for Barcelona is defensive support for Bousquet. Bousquet over the years has been left to cover the entire back four defenders. And despite how great he is as a player, he needs that support for the team to prosper. I understand why Enrique made the sub given that fact that Rakitic played that entire game against Espanol and Grenada and maybe evening thinking of upcoming games in Iniesta’s absence.
    However, substituting Turan in a game when you were being pressed high up the field was a disaster waiting to happen. Turan lacked the speed, strength and that midfield presence needed in that center midfield to support Bousquet and allowed the game to flow. Rafinha in for Gomes at that time was again the last option left given how well Rafinha have been playing and how well Gomes did in that game despite missing an open chance.
    In iniesta’s absence, if Rakitic needs to be substituted, The only player left in the squad especially in those types of games, where you are pressured high that is suited to fit Barcelona is Sergio Roberto, His speed, strength and midfield qualities will enable Barcelona to stem the flow of the high press. The only question is who will play the Right Back spot. Without injuries, Mascherano can play that role, moving Sergio Roberto center field, especially with the classico approaching.
    In summary, Barcelona must always play with Bousquet and Rakitic and any other mid fielder. Or If Rakitic must be changed, Sergio Roberto must be switched to the play with Bousquet, in the center midfield.

  • Kneowell Anyanwu

    Our midfield is work in progress, playing the ball out of the back to the forwards is still a challenge against pressing teams. Pep did a good job pressing our fullbacks and midfielders who are our major outlets to get the ball to the front 3, that effectively nullified all threats from messi and co as all passing lanes to them were blocked meaning they won’t get the ball in their choice locations on the field except they fall back where they are a less harmful. I’m sure Lucho must be surprised as I am too that the almighty Pep will sacrifice his slow build style for counter attacking football, alas he resorts to doing what needs to be done to get a win, this has always been lucho’s strength over Guardiola, flexibility to switch tactics as the game demands on a case by case basis so as to win at all cost. Unfortunately for Lucho, Pep chose the right but unexpected time to switch tactics too. I remember when pep was losing against barca while in barca, he stubbornly clung to his philosophy, though he won the return leg playing his style, but it was obvious to him that this man city squad wasn’t gonna get anything trying to outplay barca in their own game because we are so good at man marking. Kudos to pep for his revolutionary victory over the best club in the world (in his own words) would be such a boost to his team for the EPL and such a huge statement of intent to other clubs out there. Such statements though always comes with huge challenges as opponents will come over prepared. I am not pained we lost to Pep who’s about the best coach in the world right now, moreso because we didn’t cede our position even after the loss, being 2 points clear on top with a large goal for difference. Worst case is that we’ll draw one and win one of the remaining 2 group stages game which still keeps us at first position except ofcourse pep wins the next two games with atleast a 12 – 15 goals margin. Gomes really stepped up big time, busquet still in his lack lustre performance, he seem to have lost his ability to lose his markers with signature fake body movements and false pass motions, I hope he finds that form quick enough. The midfield needs to be drilled, that’s where most of our leakages come from, they need to do more under pressure in pique and iniesta’s absence, pique always has the right pass to pick out a neymar on the flanks and that has saved us a lot and led to many goals, he even knows when to become the second striker beside suarez and he picks his moments well. If we had a pique and iniesta we wouldn’t have lost, but that’s no excuse, the other guys has got to really earn their pays and reward the coach and the fans trust in them with decent performances. Hopefully they’ll turn up against sevilla

    • Eivind Niclasen

      There are plenty of weaknesses in the current Barca. Suarez is invisible, Neymar still creates the occasional goal but rarely scores himself, and refuses to pass to Digne. That leaves Messi as the sole goal threat. Meanwhile, Busquets takes five touches on the ball whenever he receives it, and gone is the brilliant one-touch no.6, who rose to global fame during the Pep era. The current midfield has great potential, but is still a work in progress. The only positive from the mauling at the Etihad was seeing Gomes take a huge leap forward.

      • Kneowell Anyanwu

        Suarez? Just form, I won’t call that a weakness, it’s every player’s nightmare, but it comes and goes. Neymar to digne? Maybe he understand’s digne’s limitations attack wise or the chemistry hasn’t quite gelled. I’ll be patient with all of them till year end, then they should all gel more, hopefully iniesta’s injury will foster that process especially in the middle. The team is still a work in progress

        • Nony

          Yea, team needs a bit of time to gel more…i think Ney should learn to trust Digne more for chemistry to grow. Can’t wait for Suarez to put this current form behind him…

    • Nony

      Good analysis. Gomez really stepped up…easily his best performance in barca colours.

  • Grega Kavčič

    Our clueless tinkerer strikes again!

    • Kneowell Anyanwu

      Our wonderful hindsight coach who only waits for a loss to happen comments again. Lol

      • Grega Kavčič

        Oh, you should know better. Well… maybe not. 😛

        This is always my opinion even if we win he is not worth a bag of rice. 🙂 Again you wrote a shedload of nothing in the comments, when you could comment on why the f*** he was switching umtiti, masch in the game multiple times, just tinkering mid game. Introducing Arda and hanging out Busi to dry was also a masterstroke worthy of a slap or two… tinkering with the midfield every game someone in a different position…. better off with a monkey on the touchline.

        Well… just this year to go anyway, he will fire his own arrogant ass at the end of the season anyway. 🙂

        • Kneowell Anyanwu

          Like I said, you are only a hindsight coach who points out what could have gone right or what should have been done only when it goes wrong, any idiot can do same, infact millions of our fans can have their own hindsight perspectives as most pundits do only to be given charge of a club and fail miserably (e.g Gary Neville) . But I prefer a monkey on the touchline who can make decisions before the game and also real time to a pundit who thinks free candies should be shared at lunch. I kinda prefer that “bag of rice” who’s so far succeeded in coaching barca. Is he tinkering? Well, he tinkers with the acquisitions he made, he has his own ideas when he bought those guys and you can’t know better than owner of a vision. He tinkers because he’s looking for something, your view is hindsight at best and as always

      • Pius Kamau

        Dude, you haven’t yet been convinced (or rather opened your eyes) to the fact that Barca’s brand and quality of football is deteriorating under Lucho??…..damn!!

        • Kneowell Anyanwu

          Lol, Naaaah, I’ve seen that Lucho’s football is one with a difference, and I have let go of what I used to know to embrace what we have now, unlike you who choose to live in the past and expecting every midfielder to be a xavi and every defender to be a puyol and abidal. I’ve moved on, you may keep mourning your brand of “barca football”,

        • Kneowell Anyanwu

          I’m also sure that in the near future when messi and iniesta and pique and busquet are no more you will also blame the coach then that he isn’t playing the brand of football you know today.

  • WESTBAnks

    what did he say this time