One moment of recklessness is all it takes to turn a match on its head and while it isn’t fair to claim that Martin Demichelis’ sending off made ‘all’ the difference, it certainly altered the course of the game between Manchester City and Barcelona. The Catalans won the Champions League round of 16 first leg 2-0 but the performance wasn’t quite as convincing as the score line suggests.
Overall, perhaps the La Liga champions were the better team but City’s display was far from insipid. If nothing else, they established that while their defense has been suspect all season, they’re not quite as shaky as Barcelona’s. Ironically, the better defense was the one that conceded on the night but that mustn’t take away from the organization and discipline with which the English outfit set up.
Manuel Pellegrini deviated from his customary 4-2-2-2 formation, opting for a 4-2-3-1 instead. Alvaro Negredo put in a good shift on his own upfront while David Silva was instrumental in every City attack as he operated behind the striker and did well to get behind the ball in defense too. Meanwhile, the return of Fernandinho to partner Yaya Toure in midfield was a massive boost for the home side.
Barcelona were troubled from set-pieces
The City defense stood firm and denied Barcelona a clear-cut chance for the entirety of the first half with Vincent Kompany in particular imposing himself on their diminutive forwards. At the other end, Negredo was a constant pest for Javier Mascherano in particular while Victor Valdes endured a couple of nervy moments from set-pieces as City comfortably overpowered their counterparts in the aerial challenges.
The hosts kept their guests at bay at the start of the second half as well until Demichelis went on to confirm everyone’s suspicion that he was the weak-link in the City back four.
Perhaps Kompany could have maintained his line better as he played Lionel Messi onside but Demichelis should have stayed on his feet because there was no way he had the pace to catch up to his fellow Argentine and needlessly attempted a reckless last-ditch tackle from behind.
Demichelis' sending off turned the game
Messi was a peripheral figure in the game up until that point but made no mistake from the spot as he gave Barcelona the lead. However, the response from City was impressive but also concerning from Gerardo Martino’s point of view.
Despite going down to ten men just eight minutes into the second half, City put up a fight, played football instead of just parking the bus and even looked the more likely to score for much of that period. Indeed, over the course of the game, the hosts only managed 32% of possession but still had 12 attempts at goal to Barcelona’s 14.
City had a few decent chances to grab an equalizer that would have set up the second leg perfectly but perhaps their intentions to get that goal resulted in them conceding a second. Dani Alves was allowed to get in behind late in the game after a quick one-two and did well to beat Joe Hart from a tight angle. Taking a 2-0 lead back to the Nou Camp, you have to recognize that Barcelona are in a fantastic position to progress now.
The second goal may have put the tie beyond City
Even with their defensive vulnerabilities, they’re often a different animal at home and barring a phenomenal performance from City in Spain, this fixture is all but decided. However, it could have been different if City didn’t lose a man in the second half and the fact that they still threatened after Demichelis was dismissed just goes to prove that a quality side can give Barcelona’s defense plenty of problems.They may have gotten away it this time around but what happens when they are made to face Real Madrid or worse, Bayern Munich later in the competition? Despite their good form of late, this performance once again suggests that the all-conquering Barcelona of old is no more. They aren’t quite as intimidating anymore and that was evident when City went toe-to-toe with them despite their numerical disadvantage.
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