Manuel Pellegrini’s gamble on 4-4-2 backfires, as Barcelona make Man City pay

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MANCHESTER — Manuel Pellergini got his tactics horribly wrong on Tuesday night as he deployed a 4-4-2 system to try and cause problems for Barcelona’s defense with Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero up top.

[ RELATED: Three things we learned ]

Instead the Chilean boss caused plenty of issues for his own back four, with neither David Silva or Samir Nasri comfortable playing out wide as true wingers and Barcelona’s full backs pushing on to create overloaded situations time and time again.

[ RELATED: Timeline – Messi v Aguero ]

Barcelona’s midfield dominated possession in the first half, with Fernando and James Milner reminiscent of statues as the entire City team gave Barca too much respect. After 31 minutes City were 2-0 down thanks to Luis Suarez’s predatory finishes and the experiment to start Dzeko and Aguero up top together — which although it worked wonderfully against Newcastle United last weekend, it didn’t have the same impact on Tuesday — looked foolish in the Citizens’ biggest game of the season so far. Pellegrini needed to succeed in the Champions League in his second-season at the Etihad and instead of taking responsibility for his decision to alter the system, he put the blame solely on his players when speaking to the press afterwards.

[ RELATED: PK hero Hart says City can advance ]

Perhaps he was right to. Fernando gave the ball away time and time again, Nasri and Silva were isolated and the Citizens badly missed Yaya Toure (suspended) and his powerful drivings runs from midfield to help mesh things together. So, why did Pellegrini deploy a 4-4-2 formation and play in an unfamiliar way for the visit of Barcelona to the Etihad? Speaking to the media afterwards, Pellegrini had no answer.

“We didn’t play in the first play, which is why it was impossible to try to win,” Pellegrini said. “More so when you give up an easy goal and it was more easy for Barca to retain and keep the ball for longer. I think that if we played in the first half the way we played in the second half, the score would have been different… In the second half we did what we talked about before the game. We did well and it is not easy to play against Barcelona. We conceded two goals and we scored one and had two or three clear chances more.”

On the contrary, Luis Enrique was extremely happy with his sides performance (despite Lionel Messi missing a last minute penalty kick which would have sealed a 3-1 win) and the Spaniard definitely had the upper-hand on Pellegrini.

source: AP
Enrique had the upper hand over Pellegrini.

By keeping the three dangermen of Neymar, Luis Suarez and Messi high, Enrique allowed City to have the ball in midfield but every time his side broke they tore City apart in the first half. In one instance Barca kept three attackers forward when City had a corner, as the Catalan club stretched the Citizens and punished them ruthlessly.

Dominating midfield with Sergio Busquets having all the time in the world to pick off forward passes, then Ivan Rakitic and Andre Iniesta able to push high on Milner and Fernando, Barca bossed proceedings in the first half. Enrique’s assistant Juan Carlos Unzue was stood on the edge of the technical area for most of the match, dressed in a smart pair of sneakers and jeans, his demeanor certainly didn’t match his casual look. At every opportunity he urged the back four to step up whenever the ball was in City’s half and Unzue was in constant dialogue with center backs Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano who blocked plenty of efforts as the Catalans defended resolutely.

Enrique, a former midfield enforcer during his playing days for the Catalan club, was delighted with the way his midfield controlled City.

“We were superior in the middle of the park and created situations of danger,” Enrique said. “They couldn’t find [David] Silva between the lines. Second half, after the break we knew they would come at us. They have quality, they pressed us in the second half.”

Enrique was right, City improved drastically after the break but only because they had to and Barca sat back to try and preserve their 2-0 lead. After Dzeko’s poor header from six-yards out where he should have scored, Aguero’s fine finish gave City hope of clawing things back, as they looked buoyed by the arrival of Fernandinho on 62 minutes with Milner heading out to his favored wide-right position in place of the disappointing Nasri. But just 10 minutes later Gael Clichy was stupidly sent off for a second yellow card and Barcelona dominated the final 15 minutes with the one-man advantage. It was all too similar to City’s games against Barcelona last season as they have now had three red cards in three games against the Spanish giants and have given away two PKs. Pellegrini called Pablo Zabaleta’s last minute challenge on Messi to give away a penalty kick “unnecessary” and called for his side to “control their emotions better” in the box.

Pressed again on why he chose to deploy a 4-4-2 system, as City started slowly and never fully recovered, Pellegrini again brushed it off.

“It was the way we must play against Barcelona. Barcelona will always dominate some part of the game in the midfield,” Pellegrini said. “With the same players in the second half and losing 2-0, it is more difficult to play because Barcelona played with more quiet. It was the way we must play from the first whistle…. We must play the way we normally do and the way we played in the second half. If we do then I think that we can have chances.”

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Kompany and City’s defense struggled to contain Messi and Barca in the first half.

City’s goalkeeper Hart, who saved the penalty kick at the death from Messi which could well prove pivotal, believes his side are still in this tie. Just.

“We pressed until the first goal and panicked a bit. We regrouped second half, put a lot of pressure on and were good for our goal and maybe good for a result tonight,” Hart said. “The occasion did not get to us, sometimes things go against you. It is 2-1 and we go there with belief.”

City now need at least a 2-0 win at the Nou Camp on Mar. 18 to go through to the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals for the first time in club history. It’s a big ask, but it can be done if they play the same way they did in the second half and cut out the silly errors.

It can also be achieved if Pellegrini gets his tactics correct from the beginning, with a 4-3-3 system involving Toure a must. City played into Barcelona’s hands for over half of the first leg and are lucky to still be in with a chance, albeit a rather slim one, of advancing. If City’s defeat to Barcelona on Tuesday proved anything, it is that they are failing to progress under Pellegrini in Europe as they head into another second leg at the Nou Camp starring Champions League elimination in the face.

La Liga roundup: Atletico Madrid win first opener in four years

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Spain’s top flight is two days into a new season, and here’s a roundup of all of Sunday’s action.

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Atletico Madrid 1-0 Getafe

It wasn’t done in aesthetically pleasing fashion, but Atletico Madrid won their first opening season game in four years.

In fact, the first half was rough with both Atletico and Getafe loosing players to straight red cards. Getafe’s Jorge Molina saw red for a studs-up challenge in the 38th minute, while Renan Lodi was asked to leave the field in his debut for Los Colchoneros. 

Summer signing Alvaro Morata proved to be the difference for Atletico, however. Assisted by former Tottenham fullback Kieran Trippier, the team’s academy product scored early on in the 23rd minute – the goal made Atletico one of eight clubs to start the season with three points.

$140 million signing Joao Felix also made his La Liga debut, and impressed the home crowd with a dazzling run in the second half that ended drawing a penalty for Atletico. Morata missed.

Not the smoothest of games for Diego Simeone’s side, but like Real Madrid, they already have an edge on Barcelona.

Espanyol 0-2 Sevilla 

Julen Lopetegui can finally breathe (and coach) in peace.

Following a series of unfortunate events with the Spanish national team and Real Madrid, Lopetegui and Sevilla started their new era in a winning way.

Sergio Reguilon got things started for the visiting side with a tap in inside the six-yard box. And in the final minutes, no stranger to stepping up for Sevilla, Nolito slotted one past Diego Lopez.

With only two shots on frame to speak for them, Espanyol was one, two steps behind Los Hispalenses, who look for another top-six finish in Spain’s top-flight league.

Sevilla’s young quest for that continues as they travel to Granada. Meanwhile, Espanyol have no time to waist with a Europa League play-off bout against Ukrainian side Zorya lined up midweek.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Betis 1-2 Real Valladolid

Alaves 1-0 Levante

Report: Edinson Cavani set to join Inter Miami next summer

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Edinson Cavani is reportedly set to make a big splash in Florida.

According to Uruguayan journalist Alvaro Izquierdo, Cavani, 32, is set to join David Beckham’s Inter Miami next summer. The club will make their MLS debut next season.

The specifics of the supposed move are not know, but per the report from Izquierdo, Cavani will join Miami on a free transfer after his contract with PSG expires in June. Since joining in 2013, El Matador has been irreplaceable for the French giants, scoring over 160 goals and becoming the club’s all-time leading goalscorer. This season, Cavani is off to a perfect start -scoring in the first two games of the Ligue 1 season.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The striker is one of the first superstars linked to Miami, but the general vibe given off by owners Jorge Mas and Beckham is that the club will look to spend big – similar to Atlanta United, LAFC and LA Galaxy.

Miami has signed three players so far ahead of their 2020 MLS debut – Christian Makoun, Julian Carranza, and Matias Pellegrini all currently makeup the squad.

‘But hey this is MLS’: Wayne Rooney slams MLS’ travel arrangements

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Wayne Rooney is not a fan of MLS’ travel arrangements.

D.C. United lost 1-0 to the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday in Canada, and had to fly back to the nation’s capital before prepping for a midweek showdown with visiting New York Red Bulls. To the 33-year-old Englishmen the trip should’ve taken six hours, not half a day.

MLS is notoriously known for the lack of charter flights it offers its teams, a mere four per season is the reported amount each team is allocated. Traveling on commercial flights has caused routine delays for a slew of team’s this season, with certain teams arriving only hours before the first whistle in some cases.

Players, however, will reportedly push for better travel in the upcoming CBA negotiations. Not only for Rooney, but for the majority of professional athletes around the world, flying charter is customary.

Upon his arrival to D.C. in 2018, Rooney turned down first-class flights offered by the Black-and-Red, among other fine accommodations. “If you are going to be part of the team, you have to be part of the team,” Rooney said on his decision to reject first-class flights and private hotel rooms. “All in and do the same things. I don’t want special treatment — I wanted to be treated the same as the players. I’m part of this team.”

Rooney, despite being on his way out of D.C. to join Derby County in January, is certainly a part of the team.

He is also now a part of the complex fight for better travel in MLS.

Vela scores 24th, LAFC clinches playoff berth

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SANDY, Utah (AP) – Carlos Vela scored his MLS-leading 24th goal of the season, Tyler Miller had four saves and Los Angeles FC beat Real Salt Lake 2-0 on Saturday night to clinch a playoff berth.

LAFC played a man down after defender Walker Zimmerman, who was shown a yellow card for time wasting in the 17th minute, was given a red for unsporting behavior in the 48th., Real Salt Lake’s Aaron Herrera, who blocked two would-be goals in the first half, was shown a straight red for denial of a goal scoring opportunity on Vela, who then converted from the spot to make it 1-0 in the 64th minute.

Vela, whose 15 assists are tied with Diego Valeri of the Portland Timbers for the league lead, broke the MLS record for combined goals and assists. Sebastian Giovinco’s had 22 goals and 16 assists for Toronto FC in 2015.

Miller has eight shutouts this season for LAFC (18-3-4), who have won four consecutive games and seven of their last eight dating to June 28.

Adama Diomande side-netted a rising right-footer to cap the scoring in the 82nd minute.

Salt Lake (12-10-4) had its six-game unbeaten streak, including three straight wins, snapped and allowed multiple goals for the first time since a 4-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls on June 1.