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Published on February 20th, 2014 | by Ian Cheeseman

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Were we all guilty of overhyping the game against Barcelona, and showing them too much respect?

I saw Manchester City play Barcelona, and commentated on it, brilliant, another item on my bucket list chalked off, but now I and the club have got to start thinking of this game as the norm. I got the feeling that maybe the players and fans almost gave too much respect to the great Barcelona, maybe we were all guilty of being too much in awe, over hyping the occasion.

If City had approached that game like they did the recent FACup tie with Chelsea, or the Premier League visit of Arsenal, might the outcome have been different?

I have to confess that Manuel Pellegrini’s starting lineup surprised me. I’d have selected Samir Nasri and Stevan Jovetic from the start, at the expense of Kolarov and Navas. Nasri and Jovetic could have helped keep the ball more, David Silva, who had a great game, would have benefitted from team mates on the same wavelength as him, whereas Kolarov and Navas were selected for their pace down the flanks, I assume.

Barcelona are the last team you want to hand control of midfield to, and that’s what it felt like to me. Maybe part of the plan was that by playing Kolarov and Navas, Barca’s fullbacks Dani Alves and Jordi Alba would have their wings clipped.

That might have worked, to a certain extent, but City were then outnumbered in the middle.

Fernandinho and Yaya Toure are top quality, as good as anyone, and against average Premier League players, those two can outplay three opponents, when required to, but at Champions League level, and certainly in this game, there needed to be a third quality player, which could have been Nasri, who improved City’s possession and threat, once he came on, or even Jovetic. I’ve not said Silva, because he was being asked to play as almost a second striker.

I love the speed of Navas, and when he gets it right, his crossing is good too. Against 99% of the opponents City face, he rips the opposition to shreds, but at the very top level, I think he can be stopped, and can be a bit one dimensional.

Kolarov is an attacking fullback, a good one against weaker opponents, but not clever enough, as a wide midfielder, as he was selected, to unlock a Champions League defence.

The elephant in the room is Martin Demichelis, but that was a metaphorical idiom, not a literal statement. He’s not an elephant or a donkey as some might suggest, he’s been a top class player, and during the Barcelona game he made some fine tackles. Let’s be honest though, Pellegrini’s actions, suggest he doesn’t believe City have the right man to play alongside Vincent Kompany, otherwise they wouldn’t have tried to sign Mangala in January. Vincent Kompany, by the way, was magnificent in this game 10/10, a perfect display in my book!

Pellegrini doesn’t seem to rate Lescott or Nastasic though (I know he’s had injuries too) and sees Demichellis as his best option; his first choice. Maybe five years ago he might have had that extra yard, to time the tackle on Messi just right, and snuff out the danger, instead he brought him down, and had to be sent off; even he admits that.

Was it a penalty? Pellegrini said no, and might be in trouble for his after match comments. It was so marginal that different people have different opinions, but let’s not forget that the officials who gave the spot-kick, supposedly because they were biased, also ruled out an onside Barcelona “goal”.

The point is that City fans have hardly discussed officials all season, because when you’re winning 4-0 and 5-0 every week, those tight decisions don’t make any difference to the outcome of the match.

The real reason City go to Barcelona for the second leg as massive underdogs, it not because of the penalty decision, (and I thought it WAS a penalty) but because they didn’t score themselves. 1-1 or 2-2 would have been a much better result, especially with Sergio Aguero (hopefully) back for that second leg (obviously a 4-2 or 4-1 would have been even better!)

Were City in awe, were we all a bit too giddy as we (me too) kept thinking “just 15 years ago we were watching City beat Macclesfield 2-0 at Maine Road”? We should not, and I’m sure will not, forget the past, which has certainly helped the older fans among us, savour the present with such relish, but now’s the time to play the City way and not to overdo the “respect” for the opposition.

“It ain’t over ’till it’s over”, so let’s see what happens in the second leg! I hope everyone enjoys the Nou Camp experience, but remember that once it comes to match time, City can be as good as any opponent, let THEM worry about Nasri, Silva, Aguero, Yaya Toure, Fernandinho, Negredo etc!

– Ian Cheeseman

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