We are well into the 2016-17 season of club football and matchday 3 of the Champions League brings us two of the best teams in Europe locking horns tonight as Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City take on his former club F.C.Barcelona in what used to be Guardiola’s hunting ground – the Camp Nou.
The stage is set for a classic encounter between two of Europe’s finest footballing clubs who play similar styles of football thanks to one man, Pep Guardiola. He created a monstrous team with Barcelona that was absolutely unstoppable and some of those players from the Pep era are still the core of Barcelona’s team. However, some might say that this Barcelona team has a few more star players in Luis Suarez and Neymar.
While Guardiola’s Barcelona was filled with midfield maestros in Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Sergio Busquets – all at their peak, Luis Enrique’s Barcelona is all about their front three, the trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, popularly known as MSN. Manchester City, still a growing team under Pep Guardiola will face their strongest test so far this season in Barcelona and the question is, will City’s defence be good enough to stop the trio?
Firstly, let's go back to 2015. Barcelona had thumped Manchester City and PSG and made it to the semi-finals of the Champions League to face Pep's Bayern Munich. In one of the most entertaining games of that season, Pep's Bayern who played a 3 man defence almost conceded thrice in the first 30 minutes before Guardiola realised that his defence wasn't able to shut out MSN.
When the game was slowing down, Bayern started to push forward and that's when Barcelona made them pay. In a matter of 5 minutes, Lionel Messi made Bayern's defence look like a joke and scored two while Neymar sealed the deal with a third when Bayern went forward looking for a goal. Manchester City, who are missing Vicent Kompany are expected to start with two fro John Stones, Nicolas Otamendi and Aleksander Kolarov in central defence.
We all know that Guardiola teams love to control the ball and start their play from the back which will mean that John Stones, Otamendi, Fernandinho and Claudio Bravo will be subject to large amounts of pressure from the front three of Barcelona. On the other hand, Luis Enrique is okay to let go of possession if that is going to help his team win the game and we could see that happen tonight.
Looking at Manchester City’s track record, the back three have been put under immense pressure in only two games i.e, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. Although Celtic and Everton did trouble the back line, it was the Tottenham and United games that tested Stones and Otamendi. Against Manchester United John Stones misplaced a number of passes while Claudio Bravo was all over the goalkeeper’s area and looked clueless.
While Nicolas Otamendi looked composed in the first half, in the second half it was a combination of pure luck and defending for their lives that helped Manchester City win the Manchester derby. Bacary Sagna was literally taken to school by Marcus Rashford. Against Tottenham, the combination of Dele Alli and Son made City’s defence look pretty ordinary when they walked their way through for their second goal.
Now the question is, can the same defence manage to put a stop to MSN? Both Zabaleta and Sagna will find Neymar a bit too fast to keep up with should Barcelona be on the counter while Suarez would prove to be a menace for Stones and Otamendi. There is nothing that really needs to be said of Lionel Messi as we can expect some magic from the Argentine yet again. It looks like Manchester City’s defence may not be able to handle Messi, Suarez and Neymar.
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