City look unfit for Europe; Dortmund alive for Juventus return

Two first half goals by Luis Suarez gave Barcelona a 2-1 win at Manchester City

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English champions Manchester City must rescue their Champions League Last 16 tie at the Camp Nou after a 2-1 defeat to Barcelona at the Etihad Stadium.

It’s the second defeat for Manuel Pellegrini’s men against the Catalans in the second successive year season in the Last 16 on home soil. In time-honoured fashion, the questions surrounding Pellegrini will rear following European exit.

While the Chilean has recorded domestic success, City perennially look foreign to European competition with a number of horror showings at home. Should City fail to progress from the Last 16 stage, this will be the furthest point the club has reached in the Champions League and the stage of their elimination in back-to-back seasons.

The tie just about remains alive after Lionel Messi’s penalty miss, but the first 45 minutes had the guise of last year’s defeat to Bayern Munich in the group phase. City, fielding two orthodox centre-forwards, were shown an exhibition in short-passing combinations with Barcelona stretching the play, as they saw fit.

Both strikes through former Liverpool striker Luis Suarez emanated as a result of City’s over-eagerness to intercept the ball. Vincent Kompany was caught out on both occasions, secondly as Jordi Alba advanced brilliantly, before sliding the ball back to the Uruguayan who clipped the ball into the net.

Barcelona's Lionel Messi looks dejected after having his penalty saved. (Reuters)
Barcelona's Lionel Messi looks dejected after having his penalty saved. (Reuters)

Contrastingly, Pellegrini adopted more cautious tactics against Barcelona in the tie last season with the Calatans substituting their ‘tiki-taka’ style for verticality and direct football. As uncomfortable as they appeared under ‘Tata’ Martino, Barcelona eased out 2-0 winners with Lionel Messi and Dani Alves on the scoresheet.

Lack of coherent strategy

What can be extracted from several European clashes under Pellegrini is that City don’t have a coherent strategy when they step into the continental arena. Barca, as an example, were able to carry their impressive three-man attack into the Champions League without teething problems, whereas City haven’t found a winning formula in three seasons.

Also, typical of City’s failings in European competition has been poor game management. Even with a plethora of expensive, well-paid footballers, that savviness continues to lie with teams like Barcelona and Chelsea.

12 players from English clubs have been sent off in the Champions League since 2010 – in each of City’s last three meetings with Barcelona, the Manchester club have gone down to 10 men.

French left-back Gael Clichy was shown a second booking late in the second-half for a clumsy foul on right-back Alves – the defender was beaten in one-v-one situations FIVE times throughout the 74 minutes he was on the field.

Moreover, Clichy committed himself into that situation when City were enjoying an excellent spell of pressure following the goal from Sergio Aguero, his 20th goal in the Champions League, to cut the deficit.

The Argentine’s magic, at least, keeps the clash alive – but this may prove to be Pellegrini’s last chance of convincing the owners that he’s the right man to deliver European success.

‘Positive’ defeat for Dortmund

12th in the German Bundesliga, but recovering from implosion in the first half of the season where they were bottom of the table by December, Dortmund might just be the happier camp despite the 2-1 loss at Juventus.

The German club’s team selection certainly resembled a group more absorbed by assuring their top-flight survival and perhaps guaranteeing European football for next season than going hammer-and-thongs in Turin.

Yet, despite Dortmund’s general control of possession, and more compact team structure, Jurgen Klopp’s men hand-wrapped Juventus’ two goals with lapses in concentration emblematic of the club’s downfall in the Bundesliga. That, the softness of the goals conceded, will be most frustrating for Klopp.

The first, coming down the right-flank where Lukasz Piszczek’s starting position was recklessly high, was put on a plate for Carlos Tevez inside the six-yard-box after Roman Weidenfeller parried awfully out towards the penalty spot.

Similarly, Dortmund appeared out-of-sync at the back for the second with Alvaro Morata free to tuck home the second as he pounced between Mats Hummels and Marcel Schmelzer.

In between, Marco Reus – contributing directly to five goals in his last four appearances – punished a slip by Giorgio Chiellini and rammed past Gianluigi Buffon to level the scores. It was one of a handful of Dortmund opportunities in the 90 minutes with Klopp’s team – unsettled by injuries to Piszczek and Sokratis – doing enough to hold out in the end.

Dortmund stand in a good position: the away goal on their side, plus the prospect of playing at Signal Iduna Park leaves this tie well-poised for the second leg.

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