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Manchester City 0-2 Barcelona


Courtesy of Flickr/Some rights reserved by Globovisión

Barcelona took a big step towards the Champions League quarter-finals, as they recorded a comfortable victory over Manchester City.


Manuel Pellegrini made several changes to his starting XI with Alvaro Negredo leading the line ahead of David Silva, Aleksandar Kolarov and Jesus Navas. Fernandinho returned from injury to partner Yaya Toure in midfield, while Martin Demichelis slotted in at centre-back.

Gerardo Martino made three changes to the side that defeated Rayo Vallecano over the weekend. Jordi Alba, Javier Mascherano and Xavi returned to the starting lineup, while Neymar was available for selection.

Pellegrini’s tactics contained Barcelona’s attacking threats, but a defensive error shifted the tactical battle.

City without the ball

One of the interesting components regarding Pellegrini’s tactics was Manchester City’s shape without the ball, as there were two distinct features in their overall approach.

In the early moments of the match when Barcelona tried to play out of their third, City maintained a high-block and pressed Martino’s side as a unit. Fernandinho closed down Xavi, Toure stuck tight to Fabregas, and the wingers closed down Barcelona’s attack-minded full-backs. Barcelona usually played through it due to their 3v2 situation at the back with Sergio Busquets being the key man in midfield, but their was one incident in the first half that nearly led to a goal.


Fabregas won possession at the edge of Barcelona’s box and tried to play out of the back, but City’s high-block quickly pressed the Spanish champions, and Xavi conceded possession, thus resulting in Negredo firing a shot directly at Victor Valdes.

However, City often sat deeper, and focused on limiting the space between the lines. Gael Clichy and Pablo Zabaleta stuck tight to Barcelona’s wide men, and Martino’s full-backs rarely ventured forward. Kolarov’s role on the left was to prevent Dani Alves from pushing forward, while Alba feared that Navas’ pace could harm Barcelona on the break.

City contained Barcelona’s threat for majority of the first half. Apart from a Xavi shot from distance, the away side failed to pose any threats in the final third. Messi’s involvement in the first half was also limited: he often dropped deeper in search of possession, and when he drifted towards the right, Martin Demichelis intercepted key passes and won tackles.

Barcelona dominate midfield

When assessing Barcelona’s XI pre-match, the inclusion of a fourth midfielder highlighted Martino’s intent on dominating central areas. Andres Iniesta was fielded on the left, but throughout the match he subtly interchanged positions with Fabregas.

As I stated earlier, Busquets was the key reason as to why City’s high-block wasn’t effective. With Negredo and Silva leading the press, their aim was to close down Barcelona’s centre-backs. Busquets, however, dropped in between Mascherano and Gerard Pique to create a 3v2 situation at the back, which helped Martino’s men push into City’s half.

Barcelona continued to maintain a numerical advantage when they pushed into City’s half, as their midfield trio passed around Fernandinho and Toure. Silva moved into midfield to help City cope with Barcelona’s trio, but Iniesta often drifted infield to offer an additional passing option.

With Xavi and Busquets often sitting deeper, the key men in attack were Fabregas and Iniesta. The duo repeatedly combined and attempted to pull City defenders out of position, as they offered guile and a pinch of penetration with their quick, incisive passes, and nonchalant runs towards the box.


Despite not creating many clear-cut chances in the first half, Barcelona created overloads on both ends of the field to ensure that they would dominate possession.


Although Barcelona dominated possession, Pellegrini’s men created the better chances in the first half. Their key player was Silva – who’s referred to as one of the game’s best space invaders – and here, he drifted into space between the lines, and key areas in Barcelona’s third.

Vincent Kompany’s well-weighed pass to Silva – the Belgian played an identical pass to Nasri in the buildup to Samir Nasri’s goal against Chelsea over the weekend – allowed the Spaniard to slip a ball into Negredo, and although Pique ushered him towards the byline, the City striker’s chip shot flashed across the six-yard box.


Silva was the link between midfield and attack – he often won possession in deep positions prior to making a key pass, and constantly received the ball in a pocket of space before playing it into wide areas. His pass to Navas towards the end of the half led to Negredo guiding his header inches wide of the far post.

The one issue City and Silva encountered was the tempo of their counter-attack, along with the fact that Barcelona always had numbers behind the ball. Xavi and Busquets protected the back four, while Alves and Alba’s cautious positioning ensured that Martino’s men wouldn’t get caught out of position.


Ultimately, for all of City’s admirable work both in and out of possession the tie shifted in the buildup to Messi’s opening goal. Silva once again did well to break out Barcelona’s half with the intent of launching a quick counter-attack, but with a lack of runners, he opted to play a pass to Navas on the right flank.

Busquets quickly retreated and sat alongside Alba to prevent the full-back from being isolated, thus creating a 1v2 situation. The ideal move would be to sustain possession and push forward as a unit, but Navas attempted to take both players on and was dispossessed.


This left City in an awkward position, with Toure and Fernandinho, along with their full-backs and Demichelis caught higher up the pitch, Messi moved into an onside position alongside Kompany. With fears of Barcelona’s attackers running behind the defence, Kompany dropped deeper, thus playing Messi onside.

Subsequently, Iniesta played an exceptional ball to Messi, and Demichelis’ split-second decision to prevent Messi from shooting resulted in a penalty. While many will hammer Demichelis for his decision-making, it’s difficult to name a defender that would allow Messi to shoot in that position, especially when slow-motion replays show that initial contact was made outside of the box.

Nonetheless, it was the one of the few mistakes City made prior to Demichelis’ dismissal, and a moment of brilliance from Iniesta handed Barcelona the lead.

Pellegrini makes substitutions as City go 10v11

Pellegrini quickly reacted to Demichelis’ dismissal and opted to introduce Joleon Lescott for Kolarov, and Nasri for Navas. City was now a 4-4-1 without the ball as Silva drifted to the left to protect Clichy, while Barcelona dominated possession.

Nasri’s inclusion handed Pellegrini another creative option that could expose pockets of space with Silva, and push City’s full-backs forward. Nasri exploited space in midfield after being played in by Silva, and his one-two with Negredo presented the Frenchman with space to shoot, but Mascherano blocked his attempt.

Afterwards, Silva played in Clichy down the left but his cross went directly to Valdes, and the Spaniard’s delivery from the right flank in the 86th minute was pushed away by Valdes for a corner. City’s best chance came from a Toure cross-field diagonal pass to Zabaleta, whose one-timed pass to Silva allowed the Spaniard to control the ball on his chest and volley his shot at Valdes, but the Spanish keeper made a great save to preserve Barcelona’s lead.

City continued to create chances due to Barcelona’s cautious approach, but Pellegrini’s men lacked quality in the final third.

Alves down the right

The key feat subsequent to Demichelis’ dismissal was Alves’ proactive role. The Brazilian became Barcelona’s key player in the second half, and scored the all-important second goal.

With Silva drifting into central positions to help City manufacture attacking moves, Alves capitalized on the space ahead of him, as Silva didn’t possess the energy to get back into position. This forced Clichy to defend Alves, while Lescott shifted over to cover the right-winger. Lescott’s passing from defence, positioning, and man marking was poor, as the City centre-back endured a difficult second half.

  • 66th min: Iniesta plays a ball out wide to an unmarked Alves and he squares his pass to Xavi inside the box, but the Spaniard guides his shot over the net.
  • 68th min: Iniesta once again supplies Alves, who then plays a one-two with Alexis Sanchez. Sanchez drags Lescott out of position and Alves runs by Clichy to receive the ball, and is free on goal but his shot glides inches wide of the post.
  • 89th min: Alves plays a pass into the right channel for Neymar to chase, and the substitute plays in Alves at the edge of the box. The right-back’s first touch guides him past a leggy Clichy, and he slid his shot past Hart.

Kolarov’s departure was massive in the sense that the Serbian provided astute cover for Clichy, and prevented the left-back from being isolated against an advancing Alves. Silva didn’t have the energy to track Alves’ runs, and Lescott was easily dragged out of position, which allowed the Brazilian to dominate the right flank in the second half.


Barcelona dominated possession for large portions of the match, and their patient approach paid dividends as they pounced on Navas’ mistake, while Alves dominated the right flank in the latter stages.

“Barcelona had a lot of the ball but they had it where we wanted. They were not near our area; that’s what we wanted. The team played with courage, with personality, and tried to draw the match with ten men,” Pellegrini said.

Pellegrini’s logical approach was correct as it negated Barcelona’s threats in the final third. However, two-away goals puts City in a difficult predicament ahead of the second leg, and Pellegrini will rue the fact that a simple error disrupted the natural tactical battle.

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Posted by on February 19, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work


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Arsenal 1-1 Everton


Everton came from behind to deny Arsenal the opportunity to extend their lead at the top of the Barclays Premier League to seven points.


Arsene Wenger made four changes to the side that defeated Hull City midweek by recalling Aaron Ramsey, Olivier Giroud, Kieran Gibbs and Mikel Arteta to the starting lineup.

Roberto Martinez fielded the same starting eleven that defeated Manchester United at Old Trafford in midweek action.

Everton produced another impressive away performance, but was unable to snatch maximum points at the Emirates Stadium.

Everton dominate

One of the few shocking feats in this match was Everton’s dominance in possession. Everton pressed Arsenal high, preventing the Gunners from building play out of the back, which disrupted the home sides approach.


But Arsenal did the opposite – they dropped back into two banks of four and their press was at a minimal. This allowed Martinez’s men more freedom to play passes in Arsenal’s third, but also comfortably build play out of their half. Arsenal were pegged into their own half due to Everton’s pressure, and their fullbacks constantly looked to bomb forward, as Arsenal’s wide men lacked the pace to trouble them on the counter.


The only issue Everton faced was producing a final ball – for all of Ross Barkley’s threat in the final third, his decision making and capability of playing a defence splitting pass isn’t strong. Lukaku was starved for service as he aimed to make runs behind the Arsenal backline, but Martinez’s men didn’t attempt to squeeze a pass through.


There was a brief spell in the match when Wenger instructed Ramsey to push forward alongside Ozil to prevent his side from dropping deeper. In theory this was logical, but it was a huge risk as it left Arteta vulnerable against Everton counter-attacks.

The one issue with an Arteta-Ramsey double pivot has been Ramsey’s persistence to push forward into the final third. Although, the Gunners could get away with this against inferior opposition – or when Flamini is playing – Arteta has been exposed this season against the likes of Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Liverpool on the break.

Everton’s lack of quality in the final third was beneficial to Wenger’s men, and the Frenchman quickly reverted to a 4-2-3-1, with Ramsey sitting deeper. Ramsey’s offensive contribution has been a positive this season, but it does leave Arteta with more defensive work to complete, ultimately making him a liability on the break.


Once again, Barkley produced another phenomenal performance at the Emirates – more importantly, it was in front of Roy Hodgson, as the Everton attacker is in contention for a spot in the England squad headed to the World Cup in June.


Barkley was a constant nuisance for the Arsenal midfield, mainly Mikel Arteta, who was once again exposed against a pacy, technically gifted midfielder. Barkley dropped into pockets of space throughout the final third and in deep positions in midfield to help Everton push forward, and break past Arsenal’s bank of four.


But, while Barkley’s positional intelligence was showcased, the Englishman posed a legitimate threat on the break. There were four distinct scenarios where Barkley carved open the Arsenal midfield, but was unable to convert his brilliance into goals.


  • 4th min: Gareth Barry played a pass to Lukaku, and he squared the ball to Barkley who was behind Arteta. Barkley ran at the Arsenal defence and played a pass to Mirallas, but his ball flew across the six-yard box.


  • 5th min: Barkley dispossessed Aaron Ramsey, then nicked the ball past Santi Cazorla, and drove at the Arsenal backline before playing a ball into Romelu Lukaku, who failed to get past Per Mertesacker.


  • 21st min: Kieran Gibbs’ cross was cleared by Bryan Oviedo and Barkley turned and drifted past Arteta, subsequently playing a pass to Mirallas, who drove forward and struck his shot wide.


  • 25th min: Sylvain Distin played a ball to Barkley who dropped deep, and turned past Arteta, playing a pass to Lukaku who laid it off for the Englishman. Barkley surged past Arteta, Giroud and Koscielny, but his final ball was poor.

Barkley was terrific, and he displayed his brilliance during the buildup to Everton’s equalizer when he turned Mathieu Flamini, and easily skipped past Arteta before playing the ball to Oviedo on the left flank.

Barkley’s pace, strength, positional awareness and trickery are remarkable, but is inability to play a final defence-splitting ball kept Arsenal in the match.

Arsenal vs. Howard

Arsenal struggled to grow into the match during the first half, and that was down to their lack of pressure, sloppiness in possession, and Everton’s work rate with and without the ball. While the Gunners did receive chances on the break to pose a threat, their wide men were pegged back to deep, and they lacked the pace required to catch Martinez’s men out of shape.

Arsenal’s best chances – besides Cazorla’s lovely ball across the six-yard box – came in the final four minutes of the half, when their nifty attacking players combined around the edge of the box.

  • 41st min: Arteta pushed forward and played a pass to Wilshere, who steered the ball into the path of Olivier Giroud, but Howard was quick off his line to make the save – however, Giroud was offside.
  • 42nd min: Ozil played a quick pass to Ramsey and he played in Giroud, but once again Howard was quick off his line to make a save.
  • 44th min: Ozil played a pass towards Giroud, which Ramsey dummied and subsequently made a run to receive the pass from Giroud, but Howard denied the Frenchman from six-yards out.

Arsenal was at their best when they combined in the final third, but Howard’s positioning and quick instinct prevented the Gunners from taking the lead.

Everton down the left

Everton is known for their constant play down the left flank, and although Leighton Baines was unavailable, Oviedo has provided adequate cover for the Toffees.


Pienaar constantly drifted infield, finding pockets of space to receive the ball, which allowed Oviedo to push forward. Early on, neither Ozil nor Wilshere were tracking the Costa Rican fullback’s runs, and he delivered crosses into the box, but Mertesacker and Arteta comfortably dealt with that threat. In the 66th minute, both men combined well, leading to Pienaar’s cutback to Barkley, but Wojciech Szczesny saved his shot.

Although Pienaar didn’t participate for the entire match, Everton still posed a threat down the left flank. Barry made a clever overlapping run in the 83rd minute that allowed Oviedo to deliver a cross into the box, which resulted in Gerard Deulofeu’s equalizing goal.


The left flank was Everton’s preferred area on the field to attack, and there was no surprise that the ball was circulated through the left during the buildup to their equalizer.


Martinez predicted pre-match that substitutions would play a pivotal role in the fixture, and he was right. Wenger made a triple-substitution introducing Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky and Flamini for Ozil, Cazorla and Ramsey. It was uncertain as to whether this was a fitness concern or if Wenger was searching for a direct approach.

Walcott provides pace on the break, Rosicky drives forward and is capable of playing long precise diagonal balls or short incisive passes, whereas Flamini was expected to provide more defensive cover in midfield – which he didn’t. It was fitting to see Wenger’s subs involved in Arsenal’s opener, as Rosicky’s long diagonal ball found Walcott in the box, which he nodded across goal, and Ozil smashed the ball into the roof of the net.

Martinez introduced Leon Osman for Pienaar, which pushed Barkley to the left – apart from the buildup to the equalizer, it limited Barkley’s impact during the final 10 minutes of the match. The Everton manager also made a player swap introducing Deulofeu for Mirallas, who displayed a moment of brilliance, firing an unstoppable shot past Szczesny.

The substitutions by both managers didn’t alter the match tactically, but it gave both sides a different element of attack, thus providing two goals in the final 11 minutes.


It was an impressive away performance from Everton – they dictated possession for large portions of the match, got into better positions, and nullified Arsenal’s main strengths.

“The only bit of criticism is you need to take your chances, in the final third we were not ruthless enough,” Martinez told Sky Sports.

For what it’s worth, Arsenal once again displayed the progress they’ve made as unit, defensively. Mertesacker and Koscielny continue to impress, and displayed why they’re currently the best centreback duo in the league.


Arsenal lacked pace on the counter attack, and due to Everton’s shape and pressure, the home side was unable to get into their preferred passing rhythm around the final third. More so, the Gunners possess a difficult December schedule, and it’ll be interesting to see how Wenger utilizes the personnel at his disposal, as it certainly affected his approach and substitutions against Everton.

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Posted by on December 9, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work


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2 Guys and a MIKE – World Cup Draw Vodcast December 8th


Courtesy of: Christophe Badoux

On the debut of the 2 Guys and a Mike vodcast, Tyrrell Meertins and Mike the Mod breakdown the World Cup Draw that took place Friday afternoon.

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Posted by on December 8, 2013 in Podcasts


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