If Saturday’s loss at Real Valladolid instilled new doubts in Barcelona, Wednesday provided the antidote. Thanks to goals from Lionel Messi and Daniel Alves, the Spanish champions saw Manchester City out of UEFA Champions League, prevailing 4-1 (aggregate) in the Round of 16’s toughest matchup.
That accomplishment wasn’t lost on Gerardo Martino. Noting the difficult time Barcelona had leading up to today’s second leg, the Barcelona boss highlighted his team’s perseverance after their 2-1 win over visiting City.
“This clearly hasn’t been an easy week,” Martino said. “Tonight we faced the best rivals we could have been drawn against and a team who could have gone further in the tournament. The game was one that needed to be overcome.”
Perhaps, but Barcelona would have also gone through with a one-goal loss or a draw. They could have stumbled their way into the quarterfinals, had they carried over their weekend form.
Instead, the Blaugrana achieved an outright victory on Wednesday, albeit on that saw City end the match with 10 men.
“City played more of the game 11 against 11 and they were more dangerous then (the first leg),” Martino said. “[In the first leg] we played for what seemed like an age with a man advantage. This was a game in which both sides had chances.”
Barcelona’s chances forced City goalkeeper Joe Hart into seven saves, but with the Citizens electing to start with five midfielders, the home team didn’t maintain their usual monopoly of the ball. Come full-time, Barça has managed “only” 55 percent possession.
“We usually play with two forwards but against Barcelona, with such good midfield players, we thought we needed to reinforce the midfield” City assistant Rubén Cousillas said after the match. “I don’t think it would have changed the result.”
The tweak forced Martino to change his own approach, acknowledging more had to be sacrificed for Barcelona to maintain possession.
“Manchester City are not a team you want to be sharing possession with,” Martino explained, “and that’s why we played the way we did tonight. It’s probable that we will [continue] to play that way when we come up against sides who can work the ball around well.”
Perhaps the need to change reflects Barcelona’s new vulnerabilities. Or maybe it’s a function of Martino’s continued maturation into the job.
Regardless, Barcelona just finished 180 minutes against once of the world’s most talented teams with a 4-1 edge. We can nit-pick about how they went about their business, but where some were picking the Catalans to fall, they prevailed by three goals.