Barcelona got exposed today as Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City came back from behind and won 3-1.
As dominant and creative as Barcelona was in the first half, the second half was a completely different story. City’s intensified high pressure resulted in the Catalans giving up possession much too frequently. It was also a combination of City’s speedy wingers and Barcelona’s out of positioned midfielders which led to numerous goal scoring opportunities for the hosts.
Arda Turan’s substitution for Ivan Rakitic, one again, led to a collapsed midfield. We saw it in April’s clasico and we saw it again today. Barcelona’s right side is left exposed constantly in counterattacks because Messi, as great as he is, does not track back on defense. Rakitic plays more of a holding midfield role and can track back and help out RB Sergi Roberto. However, without Rakitic, it was often a 2v1 or even a 3v1 on the right side as Turan jogged back.
On the other side, City played an amazing second half in which Barcelona got lucky not to receive at least three more goals. Sterling was incorrectly carded for diving in the first half and Aguero was taken down in the box later on in the game. Regardless, City carried out counterattacks almost to perfection and stretched out Barcelona’s defense. Many times Umtiti or Mascherano would stab too early which allowed gaps in between the backline.
Barcelona will be kicking themselves for not putting the game away in the first half with all their chances. Besides Messi’s goal, they had several good looks in which the correct final ball wasn’t completed or they held onto the ball too long. Neymar had a good chance in the first half but instead of sending in a cross, he cut back to his left and tried his luck on a very tight angle. Disappointing game from Suarez who failed to really make an impact in the game. Wasn’t really able to get the ball with enough space to cause any danger.
The most concerning part of this game for the spanish side was the uncharacteristic performance by Sergio Busquets. He’s had a rough start to the season and has been far from his best. Often holds onto the ball for too long leaving his defense exposed since the centerbacks stretch out to the wings to help create passing angles. His presence in the game has not been the same this season not just passing wise but positioning wise. Unless Busquets finds his rhythm back, Barcelona will continue to struggle.
The victory has brought a sense of confidence and revivalism to Guardiola’s men who had been on a negative streak in the last couple of matches. Gündoğan and De Bruyne both stepped up today and delivered what was expected from them in a big game. With the arrival of Pep Guardiola and some key players, City has demonstrated today that they have finally reached the point where they are Champions League contenders.
As for Barcelona, a difficult part of their schedule is approaching with the Clasico looming in the near future. It was evident that Pique, Alba and Iniesta were all missed today but they’ll soon return. However, there are problems that need to be fixed which cannot just go away with the return of key players.
With two more games to go in the group stage, Barcelona still leads the group with nine points followed by City’s seven. Both teams have tricky away matches left but it’s expected that both teams will advance.