Manchester City is a team who, in Champions League play, was very naive, which showed through their tactical play the previous two seasons with Roberto Mancini as the coach. As a result of being tactically naive, Manchester City was knocked out of the Champions League group stage, which played a large role into Mancini having been fired by the club towards the end of the 2012-13 season.
Part of the reason and logic behind hiring Manuel Pellegrini, aside from him being a very good manager, was that his teams performed well in Champions League play. Yet early on in a 3-1 loss to Bayern Munich during their respective Group D game at the Etihad, Manchester City once again played like a tactically naive team, as Munich made Pellegrini and his team pay for their attacking adventures against an opponent who was more ruthless on the counterattack than Manchester City.
Tonight’s Round of 16 first leg game against FC Barcelona proved to be an even more important test for Manchester City. Not only was it a game against a European power in a Champions League knockout stage game, it was a chance for Manchester City to get a good result in a game which clearly would not have seen them win the tie, but could have seen them lose the tie with a disastrous 90 minutes. Even though Manchester City lost 2-0 to FC Barcelona, they were right to deploy the tactical game plan they did on this evening.
The first thing that Manchester City did was intelligently stay compact and press when Barcelona entered the attacking zone, given that they were not going to win the possession battle against Barcelona. Even though this meant that Barcelona had a few early chances, none of them were of any real threat and it slowly started to frustrate a Barcelona, who failed to show an ability to jump and break lines.
While defending is largely looked at by many through the play of a team’s defenders and goalkeeper, good defending teams get support from the midfield, who are on the frontline of pressing the opposition attack while at the same time, they do not turn the ball over and leave their respective defense flat footed as a result. The Manchester City midfield did a superb job of this; not only did they press well, but they did a good job of retaining possession when they had to in their own half, and therefore shielded what was a weak defense.
Looking at the fact that Barcelona scored twice in the second half would indicate that the tactical game plan employed by Pellegrini failed Manchester City, but it was not the game plan itself that failed, but rather individual player errors. Even after going a man down with the send off of Martin Demichelis, Manchester City did a good job of holding until Dani Alves scored in stopage time. If it wasn’t for Victor Valdes making timely saves and stops, Manchester City could have equalized.
Losing to Barcelona is nothing to be ashamed of for Manchester City since, well, that they are Barcelona. Even though Manchester City did lose, it wasn’t because they were tactically naive.