It’s finally here. The Champions League is back. After two months of anguish, torture and suffering, the deep craving to see Europe’s finest do battle can finally be satisfied. The best players, the best stadiums, the best matches; what could be better? And right at the top of the glamorous pile of fixtures: Manchester City vs Barcelona. An upcoming force who are ready to take on the world up against a side that have won it all. Two sides that like to attack and play attractive football, it’s pretty certain that this will be a good one.
Manchester City (4-4-2): Hart | Zabaleta, Kompany, Nastasic, Clichy | Nasri, Y. Toure, Fernandinho, Silva | Negredo, Dzeko
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdes |Alves, Bartra, Pique, Alba | Busquets, Xavi, Faberegas | Alexis, Messi, Iniesta
The absence of Sergio Aguero through injury will be a huge blow to the hosts, as his fluid, telepathic connection with Alvaro Negredo would have been a crucial factor towards success on the counterattack. They are, however, boosted by the return of Fernandinho in central midfield, a clear upgrade on their alternatives, Javi Garcia or Martin Demichelis.
Barcelona are expected to return Jordi Alba and Marc Bartra to their starting XI after their absence in the 6-0 win over Rayo Vallecano at the weekend. It has also been rumored that manager Tata Martino will abandon the vertical, direct approach he has taken to his team over the last few months and will return to the possession-based game that has served Barcelona so well over the last few years.
To accommodate this, it is likely that Martino will play four relatively central midfielders, with Andres Iniesta playing as a central winger, in addition to Lionel Messi dropping in, to control the middle of the park.
The natural 4-3-3 that Barcelona usually play should be slightly changed, with Iniesta tucking in from his left wing position. As a result, the close proximity of Iniesta, Messi, and Fabregas would see Barcelona dominate Manchester City in the center of the park , with a 3 on 1 numerical advantage. The full backs will be used to provide width for Barcelona, allowing them to stretch the pitch and subsequently stretch Manchester City’s defense. Alexis Sanchez will also provide a crucial role, with runs in behind through the channel to offer an outlet amongst the slick short passing of his teammates.
The incredibly fluid passing and movement of Barcelona will inevitably cause Manchester City huge problems, and could potentially win them the match, especially due to the two central midfielders City deploy, as opposed to the 3 (or even 4 or 5 during the game) that Barcelona play. This is further hampered by the lack of defensive work-rate from Yaya Toure, who is quite frankly a huge liability to the team. This significant dominance in the central of the park could well be the crucial factor towards Barcelona winning the game.
To combat the incredible talent Barcelona have in midfield, it is likely that Manuel Pellegrini will ask David Silva to do a defensive pressing job on Sergio Busquets, similar to the role that Danny Welbeck had on Xabi Alonso when Manchester United faced Real Madrid last year. His task will be to limit Sergio Busquet’s options in phase 2 of possession for Barcelona as much as possible, which is basically the development of the ball through midfield from deep, a role at which Busquets is arguably the best in the world at doing.
Silva’s deployment centrally, however, leave City’s left flank exposed and Dani Alves and Alexis could well create a 2 on 1 situation down the right flank. City are likely to attempt to use Barcelona’s attacking full backs to their advantage with counter attacks down both wings. Busquets usually drops in to form a back three with his center backs, and should City be able to disrupt the positioning of the defense with quick passing on the counter, they may well be able to win the game.