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Manchester City – Barcelona 1:2

Barcelona ended any speculation that their form would drop off following their loss to Malaga at the weekend with an impressive performance, particularly in the first half. Despite being outclassed in the first half, City could take some positives due to their second half display, coming close to scorer an equaliser.

Yaya Toure was suspended for the first leg while Lucho had almost his full squad to choose from with only Vermaelen and Douglas recovering from injury.

city barca

Pellegrini played his 4-4-2 against a predictable Barca 4-3-3

City Shape

Manchester City’s two banks of four played with a mid block in the defensive phase. They played with a narrow, position-oriented zonal marking system with Milner (in the first-half) situationally dropping back to follow either Rakitic or Messi into an open halfspace or covering in the defensive line when Barca won the ball with Clichy caught high up the pitch. Milner also dropped in well when Kompany left the defensive line.

city-barca heatmapz

On the left, the coverage of City’s four midfielders. On the right, the coverage of Barca’s three. Despite having one more man, City’s midfield were much narrower than Barcelona’s

This narrowness allowed Barcelona to score their second goal as Alba was wide open on the left hand side when he received a pass from Messi. He had time to pick out Suarez with a low cross which the Uruguayan converted for his brace.

Dzeko and Aguero pressed Barca’s CBs with moderate intensity, with Dzeko sometimes dropping back to restrict Busquet’s space. He didn’t do this often enough as Busquets was allowed to frequently contribute in early Barca build-up.

With the ball, Man City were still narrow, with either Aguero or Dzeko moving wide to create a forward option in transition. City’s only real width came through their fullbacks as Silva and Nasri were more half-space oriented.

Similarly to Özil for Arsenal, I feel Silva is a wasted talent on the left of a midfield four and should be played in a central position. His best moments of the match were when he drifted into the centre of the pitch. His central movement pulled Busquets out of position to leave Nasri wide open for a shot from just outside the area in the first half. He also dragged Mascherano with him, leaving a gap for Aguero to run into and connect with Silva’s backheel to score City’s only goal of the game.

Man City’s centre-back issues

Kompany and Demichlis were two of the three worst players on the pitch.

Demichelis is notoriously uncomfortable on the ball and Barcelona’s pressing exploited this as shown below.

press on demichelis

Suarez aggressively closes down Demichelis. He panics as he has a lack of options due to Barca’s man-oriented pressing. Demichelis loses the ball to Suarez.

Kompany was particularly poor. He (as well as the system) was at fault for the first goal as firstly, he isn’t tight enough to Suarez, then fluffs a simple header behind.

The second goal showed his two biggest weaknesses, in my opinion. First, his tendency to randomly surge up the pitch to press an opposition player, and secondly, his complete lack of awareness as to what is going on behind him. He moves about 10 yards out of the defensive line to miss a tackle on Rakitic, and then pulling out of a tackle on Messi. The ball goes wide, he gets back into his area, but is totally unaware of Suarez’s run behind him. Even so, he should still clear the ball at the near post.

The ‘system’ I briefly mentioned is Manchester City’s obsession with holding their defensive line on the 18-yard area line, no matter where the ball is. This shows complete inflexibility as obviously the position of the ball/men should require different depths of defensive line. It’s so obvious now that it can be exploited by cleverly timed runs, as it was for Suarez’s first goal.

Second Half Man City Rejuvenation

Pellegrini didn’t make any changes in personnel or formation at half time but they were a completely different team in the second half. They played with a bit more width and encouraged the fullbacks to overlap more, especially Clichy who made 6 crosses.

This benefited to their increased chance production as they created most chances with crosses into Dzeko, exploiting Mascherano’s poor aerial ability. All four of City’s headers inside Barca’s 18-yard area were from Dzeko.

dzeko headers

Dzeko’s headers in the match. Clearly effective both in Barca’s area, and from goal kicks.

The above image shows Dzeko’s aerial effectiveness. A target man is an effective option vs a team that presses like Barcelona.

City also pressed higher in the second half. Fernandinho replaced Nasri in the 62nd minute and Milner moved to RM. Milner’s pressing work rate was more useful out wide as a CM in a midfield 2 is more restricted in pressing. This is because 1) the space a CM leaves behind them is more central, therefore regarded as more important 2) opposition players in the centre of the pitch have a greater range of passing options due to a 180 degree view.

Barcelona’s attacking play

Neymar and Messi drop deep during Barca’s ball circulation around the defence. This pulls the City fullbacks forward, leaving space in the flank behind. Rakitic and Iniesta complete the triangle with the fullback and the winger, thus providing a quick option to offload the ball to, away from the pressure of the opposition fullback. This was a space creation technique that Barca failed to effectively utilise in the match.

The first thing anyone will say about 4-4-2 vs 4-3-3 is the 3vs2 outnumbering in midfield. Barcelona used this to its maximum by frequently swapping Messi and Rakitic in the attacking phase to make use of this central overload. This central domination caused even more havoc when Mascherano carried the ball forward from defence.

Barca used midfield fluidity in the defensive phase too, helping them to maintain a press. Busquets would press if he were in a more favourable position to do so while Rakitic drops behind.

When Clichy was sent off in the 74th minute, Barcelona knew Man City’s pressing would drop off. City’s 4-3-2 allowed Barca to build in wide positions and create 2v1 wide overloads with the fullback and winger on the opposition fullback. They also increased their own pressing intensity.


Messi’s failure to convert his late penalty kept the tie alive however it’s very unlikely City will score two goals at the Camp Nou. I expect City to use a five-man midfield and try to win the game on counter attacks through the wingers and Aguero. Barcelona will keep the ball, frustrate City, and find spaces behind.

In the second half, Manchester City showed that it was their playing style, that was the main reason for their poor first half. Overall, it was a fair result however without some poor individual and collective defending from City, it could have been a different result altogether.

Samuel King March 4, 2015 um 10:53 am

Hi guys I am thinking of starting a blog based on football match analysis and player scouting reports. Heads up its long, and the more constructive criticism the better 😀

Manchester City vs FC Barcelona Champions League Round of 16

7:45pm GMT, on the 24th of February marked the game we have all been waiting for. This was the best of both worlds. The best attacking trio team from La Liga verse the former Champions of England from last season. This game was going to be a cracker. Did this game live up to expectations? You’ll have to wait to find out.

Pre Game
Manchester City opted for a flat, rigid 4-4-2 formation, which is favourable for Manwell Pellegrini (Manchester City’s Manager) as he likes to play with two strikers. This striker combination is the classic big man, small man combination that included Dzeko and Aguero. This decision was a confusing one to say the least. Even though the tactical instructions were likely to be get the two strikers behind the ball in defence when they were not using a high-block pressing system, this still outnumbers Manchester City’s central midfield two to Barcelona’s three. We know that the Catalin’s look to dominate games in the midfield, by using a fluid midfield three. This includes a defensive-minded central pivot that looks to recycle possession, by winning the ball and distributing the ball by playing simple horizontal passes, playing in the role of a half back or a regista, followed by two central midfielders that aim to find the front three of Neymar, Suarez and Messi as often as they can. An interesting fact, Andres Iniesta, a star central midfielder for FC Barcelona, has completed just 18 assists and 0 goals in La Liga this season for Barcelona ( Even though there are still 13 games left in La Liga Iniesta will not complete anywhere near how many assists he had last year. This is incredible when compared to his 3 goals and 43 assists in La Liga 2013/2014 season ( Why is this the case? Well Barcelona have adjusted their style under Luis Enrique to find the forwards more frequently. This happens by the forwards. Instead of being higher up the pitch and asking the 8 and 10 positions (the two central midfielders) to play in zone 14, they are now playing deeper and allowing the team to be more compact when attacking. This gives Barcelona so much possession, and to sacrifice zones 8 and 11 on the pitch where Barcelona and now playing more of their football in midfield, by being overloaded constantly with their two man central midfield makes little sense. Perhaps in Pellegrini’s pre-match talks, he has asked the team to perform a low-block pressing system which would allow Barcelona into their half of the field when attacking and then transition with a high tempo, using a direct approach to their target man Dzeko at height 6’3, when countering. This system (formation of 4-4-2) does use the wide players of Silva and Nasri very well as Barcelona’s full-back exploit the flanks by roaming into space out wide, their attacking nature can be their downfall when defending not just as individuals but then as a team. So by Silva and Nasri being in space they will either be ahead of Barcelona’s fullback in transition and when is ball possession they potentially will draw the attacking natured fullbacks out of position, creating a two verse two in the middle with their two strikers of Aguero and Dzeko against Pique and Mascherano. Furthermore when attacking in transition if the two strikers push high up the pitch this will create a lost of space in zone 14, creating space for either Silva or Nasri to run into, as both these plays are playing in the roles of inverted wingers. Barcelona’s approach to this game was their famous, fluid, ball-circulation entertaining football style. They lined up with a 4-3-3 formation, and as mentioned they use a single pivot with two more creative central midfielders in the likes of Rakitic and Andrea Iniesta.

The Start of the Game
Throughout the first half of the game Barcelona were dominating the game, as they were able to control the central channels of the field. Manchester City were happy to concede possession and should have transition quickly. Although they didn’t transition quickly. They applied a general low-block pressing system but then looked to play out the back and find Silva. This was the trend of the attacking play for City. Once they regained the ball, get the ball to Silva’s feet and watch what the magician does. An instruction must have been in place from the beginning of the match, exploit the left-side of the pitch, not just because we have one of the best advance, goal-scoring playmakers in the world, but to exploit Barcelona’s defensive weakness in Dani Alves. To be fair to the lad, he defended well, although his final ball was poor, which was usually his crossing, which was horrific. Both Alves and Alba need to get on that training pitch and learn how to cross the ball. In fact both teams fullbacks were poor with their final delivery, as mentioned usually crossing. Either the ball was well over the man at the back post, or the ball couldn’t get past the first defender. Going back to City’s attacks, any of their attack from the right hand side broke down. I don’t know what has been going on with Samir Nasri’s form of late but he has been up and down more than a Yo-Yo. Scoring goals in the premier league to a very bad performance against Barcelona. Pablo Zabaleta was clearly instructed to with-hold his position tonight as he had to man-mark the skilful and flair-based Left Forward Neymar. So when Manchester attacked down the right hand side of FC Barcelona Nasri was isolated, and to be playing in his position with limited space, he needs to be able to take a few players on. Nasri is a very strong player technically sure, but he does not have the pace to beat his defender. When that defending speed-racer Jordi Alba, you know you have to either beat him with skill (dribbling) or find yourself in the right hand pocket of half space, between the left sided center back of Mascherano and left back Alba. So in watching the game it was fair by all to say he had a tough game but he had virtually no support on the right had side. He often found himself playing simple passes back to Milner or Fernando in midfield. When Zabaleta did overlap, it was too late on the second half. Pique should be commended for his sensation role as a stopper. He was breaking up all the attacks with his stand and slide tackles, his strength, his speed were all world-class, which made it very difficult for City’s strikers to penetrate their last line of defence. No matter which striker (Aguero or Dzeko) he was very tight to them, yet he did not get turned, and had an outstanding performance. Javier Mascherano on the other game had a poor game defending. A few times he was left for dead, with Pique majorly covering for him, but in attack it felt as if he was another defensive midfield. At times he started play (after receiving the ball from his goal keeper Marc-André ter Stegen), and once he had turn he usually found space. Instead of passing the pall immediately he ran with the ball into the midfield at times. When this happened it was great to see a very fluid understanding with the Barcelona team to cover for him as he drifted into midfield with the ball at his feet. Usually Sergio Busquets would drop back and sit in for him.

1st Goal FC Barcelona Strike!
16 minutes it took for the Catalina club to draw first blood on their victims. A preferred move that has been increasing popular (which can be seen by watching Barcelona in their domestic league), where Messi picks up the ball from the right hand side of the pitch and as has the ball under his danger left football, his head is up and his eyes are scanning. A lay-off to himself by rolling the ball under his foot, allowed Messi to cross an inswinging ball five meters from the edge of the right hand corner of their opponents eighteen year box, to find the ball switched to the middle of City’s goal, which hit Luis Suarez’s back to then be converted in the far post with a left weak-foot attempt by the Uruguayan international. Their was optional defending by Gael Clichy who’s job it is to mark Leo Messi (of course not easy), and their was absolutely no pressing applied to him once he had received the ball off a quick throw-in. Catastrophe for City, but poor closing down by their defence allowed a very lucky drop of the ball for Luis to then clinically finish. But take nothing away from the shot, as it was curled right into Joe Hart’s far post. Absolutely, nothing he could do about it. A lucky goal to score from Barcelona’s perspective, but they were the team in the advantage, and like all great teams to, they made the pressure count.

2nd Goal Barca-Class
Similar to the first goal their was optional defending. As the ball is at Alba’s feet, he is in zone 16, and in a very advance position on the left-hand side of attack. He is almost at the by-line. But once he receives the ball the defence of the right hand side for City make the same mistake. The two fatal errors as a defending unit were not closing the supply lines and ball-watching defending. That’s how bad it was for Manchester City’s defence. Alba is allowed time and space where he gets his head up and patiently wait for the run of in-form Luis Suarez and with a killer square drilled cross, Suarez adds to his goal scoring tally. A ball that is whipping in with pace allows Luis Suarez to accelerate between Manchester’s two center halfs (who were ball-watching), Kompany and Mangala, and let the ball run across his body, left to right, to the get an out-stretched right boot on the delivery to hit the inside of Joe Hart’s left goalpost and trickle over the white line. With the casual defending it was clear to see that City did not learn from their mistakes, and as a result were severely punished. These were basic errors to concede the second goal.

Back to the Block Buster First Half of the Game
Because of the player roles instructed the wide players of City Silva and Nasri constantly looked to cut inside, as they were playing as inverted wingers to for the game. City tried and naturally attack through the middle, but against a side with the quality of Barcelona there is no chance you will be able to beat Barcelona at their own game, control the central channels of the field. These tactics for City in the league, but their reluctant approach to usually allow their fullbacks to overlap was because of the extremely dangerous attacking trio that Barcelona have it is very risky to overlap and loose the ball, as they would instantly be out of position and vulnerable to a counter attack that side. Without the fullbacks underlapping there is no width to their attack and makes them predictable in attack. That’s exactly what happened. City were predictable.

Half time Report City 0 – Barca 2
I Personally, thought Jesus Navas should have been brought on, at the beginning of the first half, to occupy the right midfield position to replace Nasri. As their was no penetration offered by Nasri and he was ineffective in the first half. Navas would give City a completely new dimension to their attack, and seeing as Dzeko was on the pitch, it only seemed right to use his aerial advantage. As mention before, City were trying to beat Barca at their own game, which was play though the central zones. City played very rigid and were robotic at times, by loosing possession far too often, and were passing the ball with a very slow tempo which did not help their attacking game. Their tactical objectives were clear within the first five minutes, let alone a half time report. Their game plan was to find Silva by playing out the back or by being slightly more direct with balls into Dzeko aerially. Barcelona’s forwards pressed City high, which also explains the restricting attacking abilities of City’s fullbacks throughout the game. This is City’s main strength in attack, and is the only real width they use in attack (this can be seen in their domestic division). As previously mentioned, Manchester City tend to play in the central zones when attacking but without exploiting their width by the fullbacks their game is predictable. City should be commended on their strategically pressing style which was queued from triggers which have been understood in training, and also Manwell is know for his cleaver match alterations throughout the game (he thinks very well on his feet). So by City using a low block for most of the game, then using a high block for the last 10 to 15 minutes of the game, this was a real change to the pattern of play and forced Barcelona to adjust. Furthermore, their attention to detail to block passing lanes was outstanding. Messi had a quiet first half which was perhaps due to him tracking the runs of Silva and Clichy, which was a little more adventurous down the left hand side of attack for City. Finally, Clichy towards the end of the second half, there was a gaping chance for someone of Dzeko’s quality to put away the only efficient cross from Clichy in the first half. The cross was whipped head-height, and Dzeko didn’t quite get the direction, and his body positioning was not right, but this was perhaps signs of things to come.

Second Half
Manchester City must of got an earful from Manwell Pellegrini, because when City took the pitch it was a classic case of the game seeming like two half. The players look pumped up and raring to go. Their general tempo was vastly increased and they looked like a side who actually wanted to play. Plaudits To Pellegrini. Manwell’s side started the second half with a consistent high-pressure system, which he wanted to keep constant for a period of time in the game. In the 49th minute a second headed chance for Dzeko was missed. Some City fans must of thought, “is it going to be that sort of game, for us.” A third clear chance for Dzeko is blundered. He finds himself with the ball at his feet in the half space of the left hand pocket of the field, and he manages to cut inside on his right foot and strike a shot, but missed. A change of fortune as Barcelona face problems. They had to yet again, adjust to the way City were defending. In attack Man City began to go consistently direct as Dzeko looked to float to the right strikers role as he would then be marked by Mascherano, and so Dzeko has the height advantage, City looked to exploit this weakness. Finally, City put some pressure on a strong defensive performance by Barcelona. City cause Barca’s most problems when they were counter attacking and were in transition. Instead of playing the easy ball till the ball found Silva, their was a quick launch approach to Dzeko, who could find Aguero. Just on team selection, Kolarov should of defiantly started for Clichy, and not just because of what Clichy does later in the game, its just the quality of each player that is so distant, and Milner should have been an impact sub, meaning Fernandinho should have started in his place. Finally, Mascherano defensively had a bad game, and conceded dangerous free kicks to the opposition. Overall, Barcelona used a high pressing system for the majority of the game and when they also used a tight man-to-man marking system in defence that also was effective.

City Fight Back
Sergio Aguero pounces, like a tiger hunting its prey. The move started from a dangerous ball from deep by super sub fernandinho, as he found the inverted run from Silva, who was sprinting from right to left, to lay a ball to Sergio first time. As soon as Aguero passed the two center backs, with his first touch, the second was hit into the top corner of the far post. The oncoming keeper, Ter Stegan, could do nothing about. Absolute world-class finish.

Clichy’s Second yellow, resulting in a Red Card
Craig Burley on ESPN live Commentary said “Where’s your brain son,” need I say more.

Before the horrid penalty take, in the middle stages of the second half there was a terrible challenge on Messi, yet he stays on his feet and he tries to play the game. This may sound small, but a player of his quality makes other professionals angry when he passes then, and some of these players act in a bad way, but even if he gets kicked, he will try to keep on playing. He does not whin to the referee, and he plays the game. Outstanding sportsmanship.
Penalty Miss
For a player considered the best player in the world, he’s not having the best season in terms of taking penalties. He’s missed 3 of the 6 penalties he’s taken this season (, and he’s missed 5 out of the last 10 for Barcelona and Argentina ( Luis Suarez should have been given the opportunity to take the penalty and complete his debut hat rick, but this was not the case, and an embarrassing shot to Hart’s left was well saved, but there was a follow-up effort missed with his head which is very poor, and it looked as if he jumped at the opportunity to get on the score sheet. Either way it was hard to watch.


Andre February 27, 2015 um 2:38 pm

Fantastic analysis. Really good work.


herrhannibal February 27, 2015 um 8:32 am

Are you Michael Cox? At least mention that you get your inspiration from his twitter feed… The part with kompany and the 18 Yard line is just copied from his remarks during the game.


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