Manchester City vs Barcelona: How Will It Play Out This Time Around?


Manchester City will face second place La Liga side Barcelona, in a rematch of the 2013-14 Champions League Round of 16 match-up which Barcelona won 4-1 on aggregate.

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  • Barcelona play a 4-3-3 formation built around the most dangerous attack in world football, which includes left winger Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, who rotate between the center forward and right wing position.

    When Messi plays centrally he acts as a “False 9” who attempts to drop deeper to overload their opposition’s midfield, while the wingers make direct attacking runs past him into the space created by his movement.

    When Suarez plays centrally, he leads the line and makes runs at the defense, with Messi drifting centrally into the space created by his runs. Messi, 21 goals, and Neymar, 14 goals, are Barcelons’a primary scoring threats. Suarez has struggled to integrate himself into Barcelona’s attack, he hasn’t opened his La Liga scoring account, and has only scored two Champions League goals.

    Throughout the 2014-15 season Barcelona has struggled to identify and build a coherent style of play around a first choice central midfield and defense. Ivan Rakitic, the central midfielder they bought to replace the aging Xavi, has already been benched.

    Xavi, 34-years-old, and 30-year-old Andres Iniesta — two thirds of Barcelona and Spain’s historic central midfield — have aged and do not have the legs to consistently play at a high level in Barcelona’s intense pressing game over a full season.

    Sergio Busquets — the regular anchorman of the central midfield — was pushed forward into central midfield to allow Javier Masherano — a nominal holding midfielder who plays as a center-back for Barcelona — to act of as the base of their midfield. This alignment brought more physicality but did not bring the needed technical ability to reproduce Barcelona’s possession heavy attack.

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  • The only player who has maintained his position in Barcelona’s defensive line is right back Dani Alves, a player who Barcelona has attempted to sell in multiple transfer windows. He continues with his aggressive attacking, and provides width down the right touchline.

    Gerard Pique, a regular in Barcelona’s defensive line since 2009, has already been benched twice this season. New acquisition Thomas Vermaelen has only begun to reach a level of fitness where he can train with his new squad.

    It is not all bad though; 23-year-old Marc Bartra is finally realizing his potential, and looks ready to take up a starting position in Barcelons’a back line. Also, new signing Jeremy Mathieu has exceeded expectations and has now become essential as their left back or left center-back.

    Barcelona are also experimenting with an attack-heavy 3-2-3-2 formation that plays with a back three of Matheiu, Pique, and Bartra, and a double pivot of Masherano and Busquets. In the attacking midfield line, Iniesta plays as the central attacking midfielder with Neymar and Pedro playing as aggressive wing backs. The front line is a partnership of Suarez — who leads Barcelona’s line — and Messi, who has the freedom to roam.

    “Pelligrini should switch from his usual 4-4-2 formation to a 4-2-3-1 formation by dropping a forward and adding a central midfielder, like most teams attempting to counteract Barcelona’s possession game…”

    Pelligrini should switch from his usual 4-4-2 formation to a 4-2-3-1 formation by dropping a forward and adding a central midfielder, like most teams attempting to counteract Barcelona’s possession game. City will let Barcelona retain possession of the ball and overpower them with the central midfield trio of Fernando, Fernandinho, and Yaya Toure — who might not be available for the first match because of National team duties with the Ivory Coast during the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations.

    Sergio Aguero, City’s starting center forward, could drop deep to partner David Silva, City’s most creative midfielder. Aguero, who has carried City during many lackluster performances, will look to make his quick counter attacking runs into the wide channels behind Barcelona’s high defensive line and advanced fullbacks.

    City can play Milner and Navas in their wing positions as they did in their last Champions League group stage match against AS Roma, and in their opening Round of 16 match against Barcelona the previous season.

    They will look to stay wide and mark Barcelona’s fullbacks in an attempt deny them the freedom to advance, and prevent the width that Barcelona’s attack depends on. They will also make counterattacking runs behind their opposition’s advanced fullbacks, to link play and create chances for each other and City’s front two.

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  • City’s front two could drop deep and mark Barcelona’s holding midfielder Sergio Busquets, while their central midfielders mark Barcelona’s central midfielders, in an attempt to deny Barcelona the space to play through them centrally.

    Barcelona though, can counter this tactic by dropping Busquets deep into his defensive line to create a back three and a free distributor of the ball from deep. This will also create more defensive cover and allow Barcelona’s fullbacks to play as wing backs who attack both touchlines.

    With Messi probably playing centrally and unmarked, City must remain organized and compact to limit the space between their midfield and defensive lines, to push Messi higher up the field to find space.

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    Also, centerback Vincent Kompany must resist the urge to step forward into center midfield to mark Messi — a fault which has troubled him his whole career — as it will create space for Messi, or Barcelona’s other attackers to run into. This flaw was exploited by AS Roma’s “False 9” center forward Francesco Totti in the Round two 1-1 draw that Roma should have won.

    Manchester City will host Barcelona at The City of Manchester Stadium in the first leg on February 24, and Barcelona will host Manchester City in the return leg at the Camp Nou on March 18.