With an emphatic victory over Chelsea, Premier League title contenders Manchester City host Spanish giants FC Barcelona at the Etihad Stadium today.
This is the first time in years City have managed to qualify beyond the group stage of the Champions League. Without doubt, this is one of the most anticipated fixtures the fans have been craving to watch.
This first leg match will also prove to be a battle of wits wherein both managers, Tata Martino and Manuel Pellegrini will look forward to unleash their tactical master plan and prowess to outwit the other.
City have returned to their stupendous form after a comfortable 2-0 victory over Chelsea in the FA Cup, who has no one but the ‘Special One’ to put the blame on.
This victory will boost the confidence of Pellegrini’s boys to give their best show against a Barca side, who have been stronger with the return of ‘ Best Player in the World’ Lionel Messi. The Catalan outfit looks rejuvenated under Martino and thrashed Rayo Vallecano 6-0 over the weekend.
Despite defeating holding Champions Bayern Munich, City were forced to remain in the second place with 15 points, two more than Barca.
On the other hand, Barcelona topped the group even after suffering a draw and a defeat against Milan and Ajax respectively. Barcelona have already registered a spot in the finals of the Copa Del Rey and are on their course to win the treble.
The Blaugrana have managed to reach the semi finals of the tournament in the last six occasions and it would be a shame as well as a big disappointment if they fail to reach the finals.
“We’re on form coming into the match against City, this is the perfect moment to try to qualify for the quarter-finals,” said Martino.
Martino have no injury concerns as Neymar came off the bench to score a brilliant long range goal against Vallecano. Pellegrini’s side have injury issues as Sergio Aguero is sidelined while Fernandinho (thigh) is likely to start.
Samir Nasri looks replenished as he played an imperious part in City’s recent win over Chelsea and is likely to start. Then Manuel Pellegrini will have to switch to 4-5-1 from their usual 4-4-2. Alvaro Negredo will act as the lone striker in the absence of Aguero, with Nasri and Silva operating as attacking midfielders.
Goals from Nicolas Anelka and Trevor Sinclair sealed the win for the Sky Blues when they played a friendly back in 2003.
Victor Valdes will start at goal with Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano to form the central defensive partnership. Barca’s defence has often looked weak and exposed during this season, City could definitely add this factor to their advantage.
They have conceded nine goals from corners this season. Then we have Dani Alves and Jordi Alba operating at the flanks. While Alba has to deal with the pace of Jesus Navas and Pablo Zabaleta, Alves will have to stop the explosiveness of Serbia left back Aleksandar Kolarov.
Sergio Busquets will start at pivot and have to intercept all sorts of passes and counter attacks from City as well the ignition of former Barca man, Yaya Toure. Magic man Messi, Alexis Sanchez and Pedro will form the front three with Fabregas and Xavi or Iniesta in deep lying midfield roles.
Transitional defending is a key factor for Barca to ensure a win tonight. Barcelona will play in the 4-4-3 formation and Tata will opt to ditch possession based game plan for City’s trickery, acceleration and pace.
Alves must play a vital in attacking as well as sharp defending. With exceptional positioning sense, Alves can be used to thwart the attack of David Silva as well. Excellent man marking, reading the play and sensing positional shifts are pre eminent ingridients to ensure the victory, provide the fact that Pellegrini knows the Barca style of play during his stints at Real Madrid and Malaga.
If you look at Navas’s role under Pellegrini, the former Sevilla man has been brought to the pitch not to score goals but to provide the width to the attack, dribble past the opponents and cross into the box.
Barca, just like City, faces the acute complication of full backs. Alves and Alba rampage down the flanks during counter attacks and are often caught in possession and Busquets have to cover the void left behind.
The only solution to stop Messi is to deny him the required space, but Pellegrini will get his tactics wrong if he uses his usual 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 with the left back providing cover for the centre backs. But the scenario could prove to be fatal and problematic as Neymar/Pedro along with Alba can advance further into the final third to erupt a tiki-taka attacking style.
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