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.”

source: Getty Images
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.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks

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There are only two teams with perfect records through the opening two weeks of the new Premier League season, as there continues to be plenty of surprises.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ]

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

While you can download the NBC Sports Predictor app (below) and play the Premier League Pick ‘Em game yourself to predict the scores and win the prizes.

DOWNLOAD NBC SPORTS PREDICTOR

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the long shots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Bournemouth 1-3 Man City – (Sunday, 9 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Man United 3-1 Crystal Palace – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Tottenham 3-0 Newcastle – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]


DON’T TOUCH THIS…

Liverpool 1-1 Arsenal – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM] 

Brighton 1-1 Southampton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

Watford 1-2 West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Sheffield United 1-2 Leicester City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM


“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

 

Norwich City 2-2 Chelsea – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Aston Villa 2-1 Everton – (Friday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Wolves 1-2 Burnley – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Live, Europa League: Wolves, Celtic, Rangers all in action

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round has arrived and it is crunch time for three British teams hoping to reach the group stage of the competition.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores  ]

Wolverhampton Wanderers have negotiated the second and third qualifying rounds to reach this stage, as the Premier League side have made light work of Crusaders and Pyunik but Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men now have a really tough challenge. They play Serie A side Torino in Turin on Thursday in the first leg, and after Wolves drew against Man United on Monday they’ve had little time to rest.

Scottish giants Glasgow Celtic and Rangers are also in action, with Neil Lennon’s Celtic disappointed to crash out of the Champions League in the qualifying rounds as they now have to dust themselves off and get past Swedish side AIK.

Steven Gerrard and Rangers have had to battle through three rounds of qualifying to get to this stage and they head to Legia Warsaw knowing they will be up against it. The Polish giants finished second in their top-flight last season and Rangers will be relying heavily on top goalscorer Alfredo Morales to come up with the goods once again.

Feyenoord host Hapoel Beer-Sheva, Daniel Sturridge‘s Trabzonspor head to AEK Athens and Northern Irish side Linfield host Qarabag in some of the other intriguing clashes, as the first legs are set to be tight and tense with group stage qualification on the line.

Click on the link above to follow all of the action live, while below is the schedule for the Europa League playoff games on Thursday. We will have you covered on Wolves’ European adventure here on Pro Soccer Talk with reaction and analysis.


Thursday’s Europa League playoff round first legs

Astana 3-0 BATE Borisov
Avan Academy v. Dudelange — 11 a.m. ET
FK Suduva v. Ferencvaros — 1 p.m. ET
Malmo v. Bnei Yehuda — 1 p.m. ET
Feyenoord v. Hapoel Beer-Sheva — 1:30 p.m. ET
Ludogorets v. Maribor — 1:30 p.m. ET
Copenhagen v. Riga — 1:45 p.m. ET

AEK Athens v. Trabzonspor — 2 p.m. ET
Legia Warsaw v. Rangers — 2 p.m. ET
FCSB v. Vitoria — 2:30 p.m. ET
Gent v. Rijeka — 2:30 p.m. ET
PSV Eindhoven v. Apollon Limassol — 2:30 p.m. ET
Strasbourg v. Eintracht Frankfurt — 2:30 p.m. ET
AZ Alkmaar v. Antwerp — 2:30 p.m. ET
Celtic v. AIK — 2:45 p.m. ET
Linfield v. Qarabag — 2:45 p.m. ET
Braga v. Spartak Moscow — 2:45 p.m. ET
Espanyol v. Zorya — 3 p.m. ET
Torino v. Wolves — 3 p.m. ET
Partizan v. Molde — 3 p.m. ET
Slovan Bratislava v. PAOK — 3 p.m. ET

Premier League TV, streaming schedule

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Matchweek 3 of the 2019-20 Premier League season is here, with a massive encounter at Anfield headlining the games and a chance for the new boys to cause some upsets.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ]

The full TV schedule for the games this weekend are below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today, Sky Sports News, NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” for all the goals as they go in around the grounds. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App.

[ MORE: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Friday
3 p.m. ET: Aston Villa v. Everton – NBCSN [STREAM]

Saturday
7:30 a.m. ET: Norwich v. Chelsea – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Man United v. Crystal Palace – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Brighton v. Southampton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Sheffield United v. Leicester – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Watford v. West Ham – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Liverpool v. Arsenal – NBC [STREAM]

Sunday
9 a.m. ET: Bournemouth v. Man City – NBCSN [STREAM]
11:30 a.m. ET: Tottenham v. Newcastle – NBCSN [STREAM]
11:30 a.m. ET: Wolves v. Burnley – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

How will Liverpool, Arsenal line up?

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The big game of the weekend is at Anfield as Liverpool host Arsenal on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) as the Premier League’s only teams who remain perfect collide.

[ MORE: Biggest surprise PL players

Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool have beaten Norwich and Southampton to start the season, while Unai Emery‘s Arsenal beat Newcastle and Burnley but both have had some defensive issues to deal with early in the campaign.

If previous battles between these two giants are anything to go by (see the video above for more on that) we are in for a real treat on Saturday.

Here’s a look at our projected lineups for both teams, with some analysis on why we think Klopp and Emery will start off this way.


Liverpool

—– Adrian —–

—- Alexander-Arnold —- Matip —- Van Dijk —- Robertson —-

—- Henderson —- Fabinho —- Wijnaldum —- 

—- Mane —- Firmino —- Salah —-


Arsenal

—– Leno —–

—- Maitland-Niles —- Sokratis —- Luiz —- Monreal —-

—– Guendouzi —– Torreira —–

—– Ceballos —–

—- Pepe —- Lacazette —- Aubameyang —-


Analysis

Adrian will continue in goal for Liverpool with Alisson out injured and after his howler against Saints last week, plus several other shaky moments and a wonderful save to deny Maya Yoshida, you just don’t know what you’re going to get from the Spanish goalkeeper. Arsenal will look to press him high early and often. Liverpool’s back four should revert back to what it looked like for most of last season with Joel Matip alongside Virgil Van Dijk at center back, with Joe Gomez missing out. In midfield it wouldn’t be surprising if Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started but in big games against top six rivals, Klopp has gone a little more conservative over the past 12 months and it is likely Wijnaldum, Henderson and Fabinho will start with Milner coming off the bench as needed. Up top, the famed trio of Salah, Mane and Firmino will look to rip the Gunners apart just like they did at Anfield last season.

Arsenal’s back four is a work in progress, with Monreal and Kolasinac fighting for the left back spot, while Holding is back in training but not yet fit enough to battle with Sokratis and David Luiz for a starting spot. Maitland-Niles is playing well at right back but Hector Bellerin will soon return to give Emery yet another option. Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock both started against Burnley last week but the youngsters could be replaced in the lineup. Lucas Torreira will add extra bite in midfield, while Nicolas Pepe looks ready to make his first start out wide but he could come off the bench in favor of playing Nelson who is more defensive minded. Dani Ceballos will look to build on his early promise in an Arsenal shirt, while Mesut Ozil and Granit Xhaka are both fit again but this game may come too soon for them to feature.