Monday, December 16, 2013


Manchester City and Barcelona have rarely crossed paths and only once (home and away) in a competitive fixture.That the fixture in question occurred just twelve months ago carries a certain amount of irony. City, still relatively new to all this bluster and fanfare, don't know whether to stick or twist in the Champions League. The blood-freezing pomp of Zadok the Priest comes accompanied with boos and whistles at the Etihad and the mesmerising glow of Heineken's high fibre diet of faux-abstinence publicity stunts have many diving behind the steamed up windows of the Hare and Hounds for one last stiffener before the show begins.

At the weekend, the worried talk was all about trying to do the impossible: beat Newcastle United whilst having your brains thumping rhythmically to the beat of a Catalan military band. City not only managed this, but torched Newcastle so thoroughly, that the famous stripes almost melted off their shirts. 

Meanwhile, those masters of hundreds of European glory nights, Barcelona, took their own eyes off the prize and lost at home to Manuel Pellegrini's old side, Malaga. Fate was doing its bit but was it four days too early? One would suppose City have far more to contemplate than Barcelona on the eve of the most important game of the season so far, but perhaps City's expertise is beginning to play just a little bit on southern minds too.



In the Spanish league Barcelona have played Málaga twice, drawing one and winning one, conceding precisely no goals in the process. And there's more, the Blaugrana have only managed three shots on target during said games. As City try to when Jesus Navas is on the pitch, Barcelona will open you up if they manage to get around the back of your defence. With the forward talent they have, you would think that stopping them one way, would just funnel the problem to another part of the pitch, but Málaga have proved it is possible to more or less nullify the threat. 

Despite some criticism of Luis Enrique around Christmas when the side's form dipped, he has reintroduced a pressing game and spiced it up with an aggressive offside trap. He seems lately to have also found a secure way of fielding all three stellar forwards, Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Neymar, at the same time without unbalancing the side too much. Clearly this will be a big night for the gradually improving Vincent Kompany and his likely partner Martin Demichelis. Although Eliaquim Mangala played in the rout of Newcastle and showed signs that he is at last beginning to settle in, Pellegrini has invariably chosen the more experienced Demichelis for big games such as this. The Argentine will be looking for some kind of pay-back for last year's fixture too, one would imagine.
City - famously building the club's training structure on Barcelona's - will have their work cut out making headway, but they will be well drilled and well aware that the visitor's defence is far from impregnable. With Silva and Nasri working the spaces and Aguero darting in behind the defenders, City can profit from the kind of lapse from Dani Alves that gifted Málaga their winning goal at the weekend. 

The big loss is Yaya Touré. Just back from African Nations Cup duty, he was the steady bulwark on Saturday, from whom most of City's great movement was initiated. Without him, there is no dominant force in central midfield to hold possession and turn the tide. Worse still, without him, the defensive midfield axis looks more penetrable and never far from a critical lapse. 

In last season's games, particularly at home, City showed their opponents respect by the bucket load. The first leg started slowly and proceeded in a cat and mouse fashion that suited Barcelona down to the ground. Without being gung-ho, City can believe in their ability to puncture Barcelona's defensive line and when they do, the chances that fall must be snapped up like they were in the first 60 minutes against Newcastle. 

City were unlucky twelve months ago to head to Spain with a two goal deficit. The tie was all but dead before the 2nd leg kicked off. Despite that, they found spaces at the Nou Camp and, with this in mind, it is essential to give themselves something to hang onto for that second game in March. Even a draw, preferably scoreless, would be of use. However, looking at the creative talent on the pitch, a game without goals is almost impossible to imagine.



The first clash between the two sides was back in 1952 but City can count three successes in the few fixtures between the sides since then. What they can also count is two very recent games where little separated the two sides after two well fought matches. 

2nd June 1952. Les Corts (Barcelona).
City: Trautmann, Branagan, Rigby, Westwood, Paul, McCourt, Meadows, Williamson, Smith, Spurdle, Clarke.Goals: Kubala (19’, 21’, 56’), Torra (20’), Gràcia (68’).

8th May 1957. Les Corts (Barcelona). 
City: Trautmann, Leivers, Ewing, Sear, Phoenix, Paul, McClelland, Kirkman, Johnstone, Hayes; Clarke.Goals: Villaverde (9’), Tejada (77’), Sampedro (78’).

12th November 1974. Camp Nou (Barcelona).
This match was to celebrate Barcelona's 75th anniversary, a favour finally returned when City opened Eastlands in 2003
Barcelona: Sadurní, Rifé (De la Cruz, 46), Gallego, Marinho (Juanito, 78), Albaladejo, Migueli, Juan Carlos,Marcial, Heredia, Cruyff and Sotil.
City: MacRae, Barrett, Donachie, Henson, Clark, Oakes, Summerbee, Bell, Marsh (Leman, 46),Keegan, Tueart.
Goals: Juan Carlos (3’), Cruyff (53’), Marinho (59’).- Bell (?)

Barça captain Johan Cruyff exchanging penants with the City captain before the game to mark the Club's 75th anniversary. PHOTO: ARXIU FCB.
Rodney Marsh and Johan Cruyff swap pennants before the match

Colin Bell scores one of City's two goals
15th August 1986. Municipal Huelva. Torneig Colombino (semifinal).
BARCELONA 1 CITY 1 (City won 4-3 on penalties, then lost the final on penalties to Huelva)
Barcelona: Urruti, Gerardo, Migueli, Julio Alberto, Víctor (Pedraza, 70), Fradera, Carrasco (Clos, 80), Calderé,Robert, Hughes and Marcos (Esteban, 70).
City: Suckling, Reid (Brigthwell, 41), May, Clements, McCarthy, Redmond, Davies, McNab, Christie (Kinsey, 23), Baker, Wilson.
Goals: 1-0: Robert (16′). 1-1: Wilson (50′).

Cuttings courtesy of Graham Ward

10th August 2003. City of Manchester (Manchester). Official Opening of Eastlands
City: Seaman, Sun Jihai, Sommeil (Dunne, 74), Distin, Tiatto, Wright-Phillips, Bosvelt (Barton, 74),Sinclair (Sibierski, 74), Benarbia (Berkovic, 30), Anelka (Wanchope, 63), Fowler (Macken, 63).
Barcelona: Rustu, Puyol, Andersson (Gerard, 46), Reiziger, Òscar López (Ros, 83), Xavi (Márquez, 83), Cocu,Quaresma (Saviola, 46), Ronaldinho (David Sánchez, 83), Kluivert (Iniesta, 63), Overmars.
Goals: 1-0: Anelka (34’). 1-1: Saviola (58’). 2-1: Sinclair (67’).

The Guardian report from City's first ever game at Eastlands v. Barcelona
A very young Andres Iniesta pictured with Paul Bosvelt on the cover of the first home league programme ever produced for the new stadium, for the match with Portsmouth (1-1, David Sommeil)

19th August 2009. Camp Nou (Barcelona). Trofeu Joan Gamper.
Richard Dunne coyly lifts the Juan Gamper Trophy in 2009

Barcelona: Pinto, Montoya (Alves, 46), Fontàs (Henrique, 63), Puyol (Bartra, 31) (Piqué, 63), Maxwell (Muniesa,63), Touré (Thiago, 46), Sergio Busquets (Keita, 46), Gudjohnsen (Jonathan Dos Santos, 46), Pedro (Messi, 46), Bojan (Ibrahimovic, 46) and Jeffren (Gai Assulin, 54).
City: Given, Zabaleta (Garrido, 65), Dunne, K. Touré, Onuoha, Weiss, Wright-Philips (Tripper, 81), Ireland, Barry (Etuhu, 69), Petrov, Tevez (Bellamy, 64).
Goal: 0-1: Petrov (27’).

18th February 2014. Etihad Stadium. UEFA Champions League
12th March 2014, Nou Camp, Barcelona. UEFA Champions League
City/Barcelona: full line-ups for the first leg here 
Barcelona /City: full line-ups from the Nou Camp return here
"By that stage they were down to 10 men after another refereeing decision that will convince Pellegrini his team suffered badly over the two ties because of poor officiating. City were convinced they should have been awarded a penalty for Gerard Piqué's 78th-minute challenge on the substitute Edin Dzeko but the French referee, Stéphane Lannoy, waved play on and Pablo Zabaleta took his protests so far that he was shown a second yellow card. 
City had a reasonable grievance on a night when Pellegrini was already barred from the dugout because of his lacerating post-match comments about the Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson after the first leg. Yet there was more to City's defeat than trying to pin the blame elsewhere...." - Daniel Taylor The Guardian
In short, Barcelona represent two fascinating elements to Manchester City: an opponent which has been out of reach unless played in friendly fixtures for 100 years or more and a ripe, obvious target to measure oneself against in the club's new competitive clothing. Given the circumstances of last season's matches, there is every chance of pushing the Catalans closer to the limit than City have managed before. Current form suggests two titanic battles are about to flow before us. Barcelona start as overpowering favourites to progress, but -if the winners are from Manchester at the end of it all- some will begin to believe real headway can be made towards the final in Berlin's next May. 

1 comment:

  1. If we're going to be the best we have to beat the best!

    I remember the opening of the Etihad (City of Manchester stadium as it was then). The national anthems were played prior to kick off and we all cheered Ronaldinho after he'd rejected United.

    Looking forward to beating Barca this time. If not it's another big night in our European learning curve.


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