Manchester City has played against Barcelona five times in the past two and a bit seasons in the UEFA Champions League.
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They’ve won the grand total of zero games against Barca and have lost all five with an aggregate score of 11-2.
Now they have Pep Guardiola in charge, City’s hierarchy expects them to challenge for the UCL title but with just four points from their opening three games and a 4-0 shellacking at the Nou Camp two weeks ago, the Spanish coach who is a legend at Barca knows he is up against it when the club he played and managed rolls into the Etihad Stadium. Pep has already called this a “final” for City as they aim to get out of Group C of the UCL.
Here are three ways Guardiola’s side can maximize their chances of finally getting the better of Lionel Messi, Neymar, Luis Suarez and Co.
1- Keep 11-men on the pitch
This sounds ridiculously simple… but it hasn’t been for City over the years. At the Nou Camp two weeks ago Claudio Bravo was sent off for a moment of madness with the game close at 1-0 to Barca and two years ago City were locked in at 0-0 at the Etihad in a Round of 16 clash and Martin Demichelis decided to lunge in on Lionel Messi in the box. In fact, in their five previous meetings against Barcelona, City have only finished with 11-men on the pitch once. Guardiola has spoke about it this week and said his team must stay disciplined if they’re going to get anything from the game. he added that it is “impossible” to win against Barca a man down.
2- Get the ball wide to De Bruyne, Sterling early
In the first group game between these two teams last month, City had great success getting the ball in to Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling as soon as possible in the final third. Barcelona aren’t used to be on the back foot and if City can get the ball from their defenders into the midfield quickly and then play it into the channels, you’d fancy Sterling and De Bruyne to cause plenty of problems. Especially with defenders Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Aleix Vidal and Jeremy Mathieu all out. The only issue in the Nou Camp was that once De Bruyne or Sterling got into the box they either had to have a go on their own or pass the ball on to someone less clinical with Sergio Aguero not starting that particular game. Now that we know Aguero will start against Barca, he should have plenty of chances to score if the first leg is anything to go by.
3- More conviction in defense
As we’ve seen in recent weeks, costly mistakes from Bravo and John Stones have been punished by opponents. City’s philosophy under Guardiola is clear: pass the ball from the back and from the goalkeeper. When it works it is wonderful. When it doesn’t and City’s players are unsure whether or not to have another touch or clear their lines, it is woeful and dangerous. With Willy Caballero in goal, he will be more direct than the suspended Bravo. That’s not a bad thing. Yes, Guardiola loves his goalkeeper to play out of the back but you get the sense that his defense has been doing this to the nth degree in recent weeks. Playing with more conviction and taking less risks at the back may led to slightly less possession for City but then again, that’s always likely to happen against Barca.