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F.C. Barcelona Shows That Manchester City Has A Lot To Learn

Gabe Quintela |
February 25, 2014 | 2:42 p.m. PST

Staff Writer

Lionel Messi and F.C. Barcelona shut out Man City with relative ease. (Twitter/@FCBarcelona)
Lionel Messi and F.C. Barcelona shut out Man City with relative ease. (Twitter/@FCBarcelona)
F.C. Barcelona 2, Manchester City 0

It’s been a long wait, but the Champions League is back, and just in time for one of the most hyped Round of 16 matchups in years. As F.C. Barcelona and Manchester City faced off, we were presented with an interesting competition between old and new, between established Champions League dominance and the struggle to achieve European level success. 

Manchester City, as cliché as it may sound, understands that to be the best, they must beat the best. And despite Barcelona’s collapse during their Champions League run last season, it's clear that they are still the best. So much so that Manchester City have explicitly made an effort to mimic the patient, attacking style of play that has brought Barcelona success at the highest stage of European soccer. In an effort to import the winning ways of the Catalan giants, Manchester City has new attacking-minded manager Manuel Pellegrini, former Barcelona vice president Ferran Soriano to be CEO, former Barcelona director of football Txiki Begiristain, and have poured money into developing their youth system. 

Manchester City, under the direction of a new, forward-thinking board of directors, has built a team capable of playing the renowned tiki-taka style that Barcelona so proudly made a success. With the likes of David Silva and the now in-form Samir Nasari, two great playmakers, and Fernandinho sitting along side Yaya Toure (Sergio Busquests on steroids), the midfield is capable of controlling the game unlike many teams in the sport right now.  

Yet, the issue City had was being able to play that style against the team that perfected it. Instead, the English side decided to sit back and absorb pressure, often dropping eight or nine players behind the ball in their defensive third of the pitch. While this is not a completely ineffective strategy and remains one of the few ways teams have beaten Barcelona in the past, this system relies on a strong ability to counterattack, which Manchester City showed signs of doing through the pace of Jesus Navas and the finishing potential of Alvaro Negredo. Yet, when Martin Demichelis absent-mindedly took down Messi from behind in the 52nd minute, conceding a penalty and receiving a red card, not only did City find themselves a goal down, but Fernandinho had to drop back from his midfield position, affecting the flow of play during the counter attack. 

Even with 11 men, we knew it would be difficult for City to absorb enough pressure to find possession and create chances for themselves. But with a man down, it seemed an impossible task. Although City still managed to create a few chances, Barcelona was able to wear the English side down with 68 percent of the possession throughout the course of the match, possessions which eventually led to a quick give-and-go exchange between Neymar and Dani Alves in the 90th minute, granting Barcelona its second goal of the day. 

While it is difficult to blame Pelligrini, whose defensive strategy seemed to be working until Demichelis’ exit, it is hard not to wonder what could have been if the manager decided to take the game to Barcelona, trying to match the Spaniard’s style of play as he has tried to do all season. If Manchester City truly wants to be the new Barcelona, what better way to do that than to beat the Spanish champions by playing their own style of play? 

Now City find themselves in an interesting situation, headed to the return leg at Camp Nou in three weeks. The English side needs to overcome a two-goal deficit. The defensive approach of Tuesday’s game is no longer an option for Pelligrini and his men. Headed to Barcelona with nothing to lose, the return leg will show if City’s efforts to become the next Barcelona have paid off. 

See highlights here.

Also: Paris St.-Germain enjoyed an easy 4-0 win over Bayern Leverkusen, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic netted two goals and remains the Champions League's top scorer.

See highlights here.

You can reach Gabe Quintela here.



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