In truth it was too little too late for Manchester City. Despite being a vastly improved side in the second half , Barcelona cruised to a 2-1 victory at the Etihad in the 1st leg of the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League.
Just over a year ago the two sides met at the exact same stage and after the first leg we were left with the Catalan giants in pole position for the last eight and City once again with a man light. This time round the damage was only 17 minutes as appose to playing with ten for 50.
A year on then and we face a similar scenario. Manchester City players in the pre-match press conferences and interview described themselves as a more experienced team, with skipper Kompany having the cheek to say games can at times be harder against Stoke then Messi and Co. How he must rue those words now. So what went wrong this time round?
On first glance at Pellegrini’s team sheet, the reaction was “very bold and very attacking.” However it was the wrong decision. You just have to look at the major teams and how they line-up to see.
All the big sides in the competition; Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Atletico Madrid and PSG play with an attack of two wide and a lone striker. Two up-top in Europe’s elite competition is not the norm and for Pellegrini the gamble did not pay off.
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Edin Džeko should have been dropped to the bench and Fernandinho should have started, to bulk up the midfield. In the first half Barcelona ran circles around City. The fact Yaya Toure was suspended for the tie should have raised alarm bells that the ‘engine room’ needed to have multiple bodies in there to cope with Iniesta, Busquets and Rakitić.
When the Brazilian finally entered the game in the 61st minute, he made an instant impact. It was his pass from deep 7 minutes later that lead to Aguero’s vital consolidation goal.
Granted Luis Suárez’s opener had a touch of luck on its side. But they could have no complaints with the second; A Fifa-esque move from Barcelona with Messi’s dazzling dribble and Alba’s beautifully driven ball across goal to pick out an unmarked Suarez.
Clive Tyldesley picked up in commentary the lack of intent from City in terms of pressuring Barcelona. They had plenty of time on the ball, even from throw-ins, and Pique and Mascherano were sat on the half-way line for the majority of the opening period.
The half-time team talk (or hairdryer treatment from Pellegrini) appeared to kick Manchester City into gear, attacking with more intent. But that attitude should of been there from the first whistle.
Joe Hart admits City panicked after the first goal and didn’t perform until the second half. “We regrouped second half and got a deserved goal and with the way we performed in the 2nd half possibly a result.”
However he says there’s still hope in the City dressing room. “This is only the first half of the match we all know that. We hope our second half efforts will be worth it. We believe we can turn it around.”
Pellegrini has to be thankful for his goalkeeper tonight, he’s given City a chance at the Nou Camp. He made a huge save in the first half to prevent numero très for Suarez, coming out bravely to block the former Liverpool striker’s attempt that almost trickled under the England Number 1.
Then there was the penalty. A fantastic save diving to his left and how Messi missed the rebound the world will question for some time.
All in all, Manchester City are still in the tie. They shouldn’t be after the opening 45. But their second half display was commendable and they had a real go against Barcelona.But sadly they started playing an hour too late.
It’s an uphill task for City. They have the quality to score goals and with Toure back in the side for the away tie the fans will hope they can do what will be seen as the impossible- preventing Barcelona from reaching the last 8 since 2007.