Manchester City staged a commendable comeback to out-class Barcelona at the Etihad stadium, with goals from Gundogan (2) and de Bruyne ensuring a win against the Catalans.
Pep Guardiola started with his main striker Aguero this time as he looked to avenge the loss at Nou Camp. Fernandinho started in that deepest midfield role; Gundogan and de Bruyne were number 8s providing both attacking and defensive runs and passes; Silva and Sterling were the width providers tucking in sometimes to press the Barcelona build-up play.
In the first half, Barcelona started pretty well with ball at their feet building up play and playing around a fairly deep Manchester City press or we can say the home side allowed Barcelona to play their way out and were happy sit deep and frustrate the world’s best forward line.
We look at the tactics board and analyse what were the things that took place in the first half :-
As we can see in the image above, the first half general position map of both set of players. With City sitting deep, it was more of a 4-5-1 with de Bruyne and Gundogan dropping deep with Fernandinho to form a midfield 3, Silva and Sterling were forced back by attacking runs of Roberto and Digne.
We all know what Barcelona is about, playing out from back with split CBs and a defensive midfielder in between to guide the build-up, then they’ve the front 3 of Neymar, Messi and Suarez. It was too easy for the away side to play out from the back and ping the home side deep in their own half. Aguero was left isolated for much of that first half. Gundogan and de Bruyne were left chasing the defensive lines and cover up for runs of Gomes and Rakitic from midfield. The pressure was on and eventually Barcelona score from a classic counter-attack.
It was until the last 7-8 minutes of first half when City started to press the build-up play of the opposition, Sterling and Silva tucked in a bit from wide areas, Gundogan and de Bruyne also got higher up to support Aguero in the press, this enforced a mistake from Roberto giving a blind pass towards Busquets and Aguero pounced on that lose ball to pass into Sterling who squared for Gundogan to score. This eventually sparked a different approach from the home side and Pep saw something in that final phase of first half which encouraged him to tweak the shape a bit in the second half.
Let’s now take a look at second half position map of players and analyse as to what exactly changed in this period of play and how it affected the eventual result of the game :-
The second half position map as you can see is the complete contrast to that of first half, the high pressing started late in the first half and Pep tweaked his system a bit by employing de Bruyne very close to Aguero and Fernandinho very close to Gundogan in midfield, the shape became 4-4-2 with Silva and Sterling providing the widths and tucking in to press the space in high up areas.
The message was clear from the former Barcelona man, de Bruyne and Aguero in tandem got themselves higher up to attack the space in between the Barcelona CBs and Busquets. Sterling and Silva marked Umtiti and Mascherano expertly from wide areas to force lose passes from dangerous areas. Barcelona kept taking chances in those situations and were made to pay on most of the occasions. What this did is created a gap between the first build up phase and forward line of the away side frustrating likes of Messi, Neymar and it was Suarez’s turn to be isolated for most of the second half. Fernandinho and Gundogan also got themselves marking the second phase of build up and whenever the counter was on, the German midfielder gambled to go into the box and he was rewarded with two in his name on the biggest night for his side.
It was complete contrast when you compare first 38 minutes and then the rest 52. Manchester City dominated the Barcelona game in the last 52 minutes and went on to clinch an important group game. The away side had 63% possession and still got dominated, so we can infer it was more off the ball domination and hustling to create the pressure and open up the opposition defence.
A tactical master-class by Pep the way he tweaked his system in the second half, a night to remember for Manchester City and can be taken as a statement win by the home side to say that they’re not just making up numbers when it comes to business part of the tournament.
By Mizgan on 2nd November, 2016
Twitter – @mizgans