Some thoughts on Manchester City 0-2 Barca

Manchester City's first ever trip to the knockout stages of the Champions League looks like it will be short lived after they were beaten 2-0 at home to Barcelona in their first leg meeting in the round of 16. Barcelona dominated possession in the opening half but neither side created clear cut goalscoring chances and they went into halftime level at 0-0. The games key moment came early in the second half when Martin Demichelis was forced into a last ditch tackle on Lionel Messi after Jesus Navas had given away possession cheaply. Replays suggest Messi may have been just outside of the box but a penalty was given and Demichelis received a deserved red card. Messi dispatched the ensuing penalty. City battled valiantly with ten men, creating a few half chances and nervy moments for the visitors but Barca sealed the win, and likely a spot in the quarterfinals, with a 90th minute goal from the excellent Dani Alves.

Prior to the match the big question was whether Manuel Pellegrini would continue to play the 4-4-2 shape that has seen his side score more goals in all competitions than any team in Europe. He had tried to play 4-4-2 in the group stage of the competition home to Bayern Munich and City were ripped apart. Bayern were able to use the man advantage in midfield their 4-3-3 shape gave them to stretch Yaya Toure and Fernandinho in the center of midfield and City couldn't get a sniff of the ball. Bayern are of course coached by ex Barca manager Pep Guardiola and employ a similar possession-focused 4-3-3 to the one Guardiola began at Barca. While current Barca manager Tato Martino focuses slightly less attention on possession, Barca still average the highest possession percentages in both La Liga and the Champions League and play the same 4-3-3 as Bayern.

Perhaps with that Bayern game in his memory, Pellegrini opted for a more conservative 4-2-3-1 with David Silva playing a #10 role and Fernandinho and Toure playing a double pivot in front of the back four. The shape meant City were competing 3 v. 3 in midfield. Silva matched up against Sergio Busquets, Toure against Cesc Fabregas and Fernandinho against Xavi. City's approach in the first half was similar to the way most teams play Barca. They defended deep with 9 players behind the ball and Negredo on his own up front. Silva dropped deep to defend just in front of Toure and Fernanindho. City did an excellent job keeping their back four and midfield lines compact and limiting the pockets of space where the likes of Iniesta, Fabregas and Xavi thrive. As a result City enjoyed plenty of the ball but couldn't find a way to get any sort of penetration into the City back line.

The down side to the shape was that Negredo was isolated when City won the ball back and they therefore struggled early to get out of their own half before conceding possession back to Barca. Barca pressed immediately when City won the ball back, forcing hopeful passes in towards Negredo that were usually intercepted. However, as the half wore on City enjoyed some spells of possession higher up the pitch. They were at their most dangerous attacking down the flanks and hitting crosses into Negredo who was always the favorite to win aerial challenges over Javier Mascherano and Gerard Pique. City enjoyed a significant height advantage and nearly scored from a free kick on the left edge of the box after Victor Valdes made a mess of Silva's ball into the box.

At halftime, despite being outpossessed, City had enjoyed some half chances and had limited Barca to few chances of their own. Another similar half wouldn't have been the end of the world for either side.

Demichelis's red card was of course the key moment in the match and it stemmed from a moment of carelessness from Navas. City had just won possession at the edge of their own penalty box and looked like they'd be able to spring their own counter after Silva had broken forward cleverly and found Navas on the right wing. Navas could have played a simple ball to Toure in midfield but tried to take on Busquets and Jordi Alba down the wing. He was easily dispossessed, leaving City out of position defensively. Xavi collected possession and played a ball in behind Demichelis and Kompany for Messi. Demichelis's last ditch tackle caught Messi (outside of the box it must be said) and the referee had no choice but to send him off. Perhaps you could argue Demichelis was too slow to track the run of Messi, perhaps Kompany should have stepped forward to drop Messi offsides but the ultimate blame lies with Navas. With City down to ten men he was immediately replaced by Samir Nasri and Joleon Lescott came on for Kolarov.

City moved to a 4-4-1 with Nasri on the right wing and Silva on the left. They defended in two banks of four with Negredo the loan man left up front. They actually played quite well with ten men but there were continuous warning signs down the left side of their defense from Dani Alves. Silva and Nasri played quite narrow both offensively and defensively for logical reasons. Offensively, they needed to take narrow positions to provide a link between Toure-Fernandinho and Negredo up front. Defensively, they had to take up narrow positions so that Toure and Fernandinho wouldn't be overwhelmed in the middle of the pitch. That narrow positioning meant Dani Alves had the right touchline all to himself to break forward. He was put clean through on goal in the 68th but put his effort just wide. He wouldn't make the same mistake in the 90th, dispatching a pass from second half substitute Neymar between the legs of Joe Hart.