Victory over Roma last month saw Manchester City edge through Group E in second position and qualify for the last 16 round for just the second time.
They meet Barcelona for the second season in a row after a 4-1 defeat on aggregate last term. Barcelona were 2-0 winners in a comfortable victory at the Etihad and although City were beaten 2-1 away, at times they showed that they can compete with the very best in Europe. This season has seen Barcelona show signs of weakness in La Liga after plenty of transfer activity in the summer. With Man City currently in great form and unbeaten in 14, could they possibly reverse the trend and qualify for the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the very first time?
Despite qualifying for the knock-out stages, Man City have been below par for the majority of their European campaign, and not just this season. In years gone by they have failed to adapt to the step in class and also failed to change their system to match a more European style of football. In the four matches City failed to win in, they implemented a 4-4-2 formation which saw the team get out run in midfield more often than not.
Wide players such as Samir Nasri, David Silva and James Milner have failed to have an influence on games as they perhaps would in the Premier League. This again suggests the failure to adapt to European styles of football where more creativity in midfield is needed. It shouldn’t be seen as a coincidence then that in both of Man City’s victories in Group E, the formation was changed to a 4-2-3-1 which saw a complete change in fortune. They were a much improved side, looking more creative against Bayern Munich and, although Munich were already through and City weren’t at their very best, City still beat a very strong Bayern side 3-2.
Winning ugly is the sign of a top team which, Man City have proved they can be in Europe, but they need to do this on a consistent basis. The performance against Roma was proof of their quality. Samir Nasri and Jesus Navas played in a more creative and attacking role that suited both their games and helped City to victory. This was also without Sergio Aguero, dismissing the claim that they had been a one man team thus far.
Whilst the tie against Barcelona will be extremely tough to overcome, Barcelona are certainly not as good as they once were. The loss of the likes of Victor Valdes and Carlos Puyol deprives the back-line from years of experience and the know-how to succeed. Also, the loss of Cesc Fabregas has clearly affected them, although he wasn’t playing every game last season. But with the deadly trio of Luis Suarez, Neymar and Lionel Messi, Barcelona will always cause problems going forward and will be a handful for a slightly vulnerable defence to deal with. But just as Man City’s biggest weakness is at the back, Barcelona also have issues in defence.
If Man City continue with the 4-2-3-1 formation in Europe they certainly have a chance to go further than they ever had been in Europe.