Barcelona vs Manchester City: Four ways Pep Guardiola can cause an upset
Counter long balls
For a while now, Luis Enrique has been accused (if that is the right word) of going more direct. With so many opponents pressing high up the pitch, the Barcelona manager has tried to bypass the pressure by supposedly encouraging his defenders to hit long balls into the channels where Luis Suarez will chase it all day.
Mind you, that might not be so easy if Manchester City play three at the back, as they did against Everton last Saturday.
Gael Clichy, for instance, would be in a good position to block off Suarez’s run. Pep Guardiola, clearly unhappy with his full-backs in the defeat at Tottenham, has gone this way to try and solve the problem. No reason, I think, to change tack tonight.
Target Ter Stegen
Talking of pressing high, Marc-Andre ter Stegen has got himself in a tangle of late when trying to play out from his penalty area. Though Barca’s goalkeeper is actually one of the best around with the ball at his feet, confident and capable on both sides, he still managed to foul up against Celta Vigo, making the wrong decision to give away a goal.
With this in mind, it might be worth City’s front men encouraging the German to play short by standing off a bit and then closing down with real aggression. Either that or push right up to mark every defender in order to force Ter Stegen to kick long. Plenty have tried and failed to stop the Catalans from playing. But if anyone knows the best way it is surely Guardiola.
Beware set plays
We often talk about Barca being vulnerable at set pieces, yet rarely does anyone manage to actually exploit that. Mention must also be made, though, of their threat up the other end from these dead-ball situations.
Gerard Pique, playing brilliantly this season, has recently weighed in with a few goals thanks to his determination in the air. More celebrated, of course, is their ingenuity on the deck, which showed itself from a corner in Barca’s last Champions League tie against Borussia Monchengladbach.
Looking disinterested at the back of the box, Suarez made a dash into space where Neymar found him with a low pass (see graphic). The striker’s first-time shot led to Pique bundling home. While City will have noted this, the players must stay switched on.
With Samuel Umtiti injured, Javier Mascherano should play in central defence where he has been used so often down the years for these big games. It sets up an intriguing tussle with Sergio Aguero, Mascherano’s mate and fellow Argentine.
With City depending so much on their main man up front, the outcome of this battle could be absolutely crucial. In the visitors’ favour, they have Kevin de Bruyne as a top-class support act, not to mention Raheem Sterling who could also be important with his ability to carry the ball up the pitch.
I have a feeling, however, that Nolito will be vital to Guardiola’s plans. A real workhorse who follows tactical orders superbly, the Spaniard’s confidence should be high after scoring on Saturday.