Manchester City are 24 hours away from appearing for the “Barcelona test”, which is probably the biggest they will face all season, while they are on a three-game winless streak.
Pep Guardiola was hired as Manchester City manager to work his magic on nights as this Wednesday’s. And, Guardiola returning to the Nou Camp for the second time in 17 months—with his last visit coming in May 2015, as the then Bayern Munich manager—is arguably the biggest subplot of tomorrow night’s meeting between Barcelona and Manchester City. Another member of the Manchester City squad who faces an emotional return to the Nou Camp is Claudio Bravo, the Premier League leaders’ first-choice goalkeeper who played his last game for the Catalan giants just 61 days ago and will be looking to help his new club upstage the 2014-15 European champions.
From City’s point of view, through Guardiola and Bravo, they now have inside knowledge about Barcelona and can use those insights to pose problems for the La Liga club in the upcoming meetings. And, although the City players are professionals themselves and have played against Barcelona twice in the last three years, their preparation for this Wednesday night’s clash will have been entirely different from how they prepared for the R-16 meetings in 2013-14 and 2014-15 with Manuel Pellegrini at the helm.
Despite these luxuries, however, Guardiola’s Manchester City do not go into the “Barcelona test” in good fettle.
Let us, through this article, understand why the Etihad outfit have floundered slightly over the last couple of weeks and also assess the challenges they will face, as a unit, against Barca.
Without further ado,
Why Have Manchester City Struggled Lately
On a fundamental level, we can all agree that Guardiola’s side have faced better, resourceful and flamboyant opponents over their last three games and they themselves have seen a dip in form, which is only natural.
Celtic and Spurs, particularly, were not intimidated by City’s style of football and aura, and instead, imposed themselves on the Cityzens.
Until their clash against Brendan Rodgers’ side and to an extent against Swansea City too in the Premier League, Manchester City faced opponents who focussed primarily on stopping them and did not really challenge their way of playing, thereby making life easier for the current Premier League leaders.
Also worth mentioning is the fact that Celtic and Spurs made explosive starts in their meetings with Manchester City and really beleaguered their visitors. Celtic and Spurs took the lead inside the first 10 minutes and made City play catch up, something which Guardiola’s side had never done in their first 10 games of this season.
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So, the gauntlet has been thrown down for City, who now need to prove that against teams who take them head-on, they are capable of moving the ball as swiftly and crisply as they did against Ronald Koeman’s Everton—who made 21 interceptions, 48 clearances, 26 blocks, and not to forget Maarten Stekelenburg’s seven saves, to neutralise City and staggeringly, concede just once—and ultimately producing an end product also.
Manchester City’s forwards and attacking midfielders have not been helped by the porous nature of the defence, which has conceded six goals in the last three games. Going forward, therefore, City have had to score at least two goals to draw and win against Spurs and the Toffees, respectively, in the Premier League, and score three against Celtic in the Champions League to come away with a point.
Manchester City have reached a stage in this season where they need to evolve as a unit who must defend better, ensure that they do not commit too many individual errors and attack ruthlessly.
What’s the Specialty of the “Barcelona Test” for Manchester City
Coming to this article’s title, which is “Has the Barcelona Test Come at an Inappropriate Time for Manchester City?”,
Ideally, Manchester City would have loved to go into tomorrow’s clash against Barcelona with a win behind them. Having said that, a victory against Everton might still have not made a difference—apart from boosting the players’ confidence—because Barcelona are going to be the most complete and resourceful opponent City face this season.
Many of his counterparts, for a game as tomorrow night’s, would prioritise defensive solidity and ‘keeping things tight’ for as long as possible, but those are unlikely to be Guardiola’s instructions when he sends his team out.
And, because of Guardiola and the way he sets his teams up to dominate their opponents, Wednesday night’s Barcelona v Manchester City tie will be intriguing to watch. The most significant question, though, for City is whether they can produce a complete or at least a near-complete performance which is what they will need, to even trouble Luis Enrique’s side.
Because, first and foremost, the “MSN” will have to be thwarted and secondly, City have to be quite incisive going forward. So basically, tomorrow night’s visitors at the Nou Camp need to get the balance between attacking and defending right.
Manchester City’s most significant defensive worries are in the fullback positions, with Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksandar Kolarov, who has had two poor games in succession and saw his mistakes cost his team massively against Celtic and Spurs, likely to slot in at right-back and left-back, respectively. And, although this duo can provide an attacking threat, Neymar and Lionel Messi’s ability on the ball is too good for any fullback and makes the 1v1 scenarios extremely crucial and potentially game-changing in tomorrow’s Barcelona-Manchester City clash at the Camp Nou.
Going forward, Manchester City will need the likes of Sergio Aguero, Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling to be at their best and harness the opportunities when they come. Aguero could be a little low on confidence and is not in good goal-scoring form—having gone three games without finding the back of the net—but this is the kind of fixture in which he needs to deliver.
Having said that, de Bruyne, David Silva and Sterling have to provide their no. 1 striker with good service, doing which is easier said than done. Because of the need for defensive solidity from City, the aforementioned attacking personnel will have defensive duties and need to think on their feet and be decisive as soon as a possession turnover takes place.
What makes this tie fascinating is that Guardiola’s Manchester City will want to have the ball for longer periods as well, like Barcelona, and so we cannot rule out the home side having to be on the defensive themselves if and when they cede possession. If City can manage to pin Barcelona in their own half, which will be a rare sight if we do witness, they will have a good chance of coming away with all three points. Yet, the Manchester City defence will have to fare better than they have in the last three games, in which they have given you the impression that they have an error or two in them.
How do you foresee tomorrow night’s game panning out? Harness the comments section below and tell us!