City upped the tempo after the break and were a different side: but chances were spurned. Fernando was clueless when the ball dropped to him six yards out. Dzeko headed a Silva corner wide, then both he and Demichelis headed another straight at the Barcelona keeper when well placed. Sergio Aguero went on a thrilling run and fired agonisingly wide. The introduction of Fernandinho added dynamism impetus and pace in midfield to City and it was fair to wonder why he had not started. He would have been a far better choice alongside Milner than his compatriot Fernando who is not as quick and is not as mobile or sure of touch.
Fernandinho is also a creative player and it was his straight pass that found David Silva who cleverly back-heeled into Aguero who beat closing Barcelona defenders, took a touch and fired home clinically. Bony was brought on for Dzeko and City were building a head of steam when Clichy received the second of two yellow cards from the German referee. Whilst the second challenge was the sort of that challenge European referees issue yellows for being high, there was no malintent (and Alves’ play acting was designed to get him booked) unlike some of the challenges from Mascherano. The first Clichy yellow was not warranted as he was seeking to play the ball and didn’t see his opponent coming in from the side. Again there was neither malintent nor excessive force in Clichy’s challenge. It is strange how Mascherano can make a series of cynical challenges without receiving a caution. UEFA moves in not so mysterious ways. There have been too many tough draws, bad refereeing decisions and the Establishment cartel protecting so-called “Financial Fair Play” regulations for it to be a coincidence. These are just more reasons why City fans are generally more concerned about the Premier League.
Being down to ten forced City onto the back foot and we were forced into a defensive substitution rather than looking to use Navas’s pace to find Bony and co. Despite our best efforts Barcelona, led by Iniesta, passed the ball round without really being incisive. This is not the super incisive Barcelona of Guardiola. They are still very good at regaining possession quickly and Iniesta and Messi are clearly great players but Barcelona were content to pass the ball round and waiting for a mistake rather than going for goals like Guardiola’s brilliant team. Neymar was a passenger for most of the game and their defence is chronically suspect, particularly in the air.
They also have players like Alba and Alves who are inclined to cheat with their diving. Alba received a proper admonishment from Zabaleta after he dived when the City right back cleanly won the ball, and Alves serially dived, eventually getting Clichy booked again. Barcelona, for all their wonderful football over many years, it has to be said, do display some deeply unsavoury behaviour.
Still the suspicion was that the visitors would get a killer third goal and they were presented with the perfect opportunity when Zabaleta brought down Messi near the right hand by-line. Thankfully Joe Hart guessed the right way (his left) and saved the penalty and, luckily for us, Messi surpringly headed the rebound wide.
The 1-2 final score was about right and despite our second half chances, a draw would have flattered City. City are not going to break into Europe’s elite until we stop tying our hands behind our backs. These City players can compete at this level if they are organised to play to their potential and if they play at the fast enough tempo. Pellegrini’s 4-4-2 does not work at this level but he stubbornly and naively plays it.
We needed to get Silva and Nasri closer to Aguero in a 4-3-3 and press Barcelona and play at a higher, but starting from wider positions in a 4-4-2 they struggled to get into the game. Silva only really figured when we played at a higher tempo and hassled and harried Barcelona. Whatever tactics were employed and no matter what players said about us not being scared and us paying too much respect to Barcelona, again we played with fear for half the game, and again we stood off the Barcelona players for 45 minutes. Our defence is a really worry now.
Both Kompany and Zabaleta had poor first halves and to be blunt, have not played consistently well since the turn of the year. The captain’s form is a particular concern. For the first goal he should have found Row Z to snuff out any danger and he is just not reading the game like he can. He needs to get his act together. Zaba and Silva gave Alba too much room to cross for Barcelona’s 2nd, and the City right back was rash in giving away the penalty at the end.
It pains to be critical of players and a manager that we love but we can do a lot better. It will be very difficult to turn this tie round but the tie is not over. We will have the highly influential Yaya back in the Nou Camp, but we will have to perform much better than this. So, on to Liverpool where we need to win. We have to put this behind us and learn. Come on City.
Next: Match stats.