Pep's incorrect decisions
Guardiola's tactics backfire against brilliant Barca
(Lionel Messi 17, 61, 69, Neymar 89)
MAN CITY 0
After Barcelona's comfortable 4-0 win over Manchester City yesterday morning (Singapore time), Pep Guardiola defended all his contentious decisions. But this could be a real problem for City in both Europe and the English Premier League.
1 Goalkeepers can't always kick out
Claudio Bravo. PHOTO: AFP
Of all the incidents at the Nou Camp that should concern City followers, the most alarming came after the one-sided Champions League encounter. Pep Guardiola refused to back down.
"I'm sorry but, until the last day of my career as a coach, I will try to play from our goalkeeper," he said, after Claudio Bravo's misplaced pass ended with the goalkeeper being sent off for handling outside the box.
Guardiola's reputation, and the accepted wisdom that City are a side in transition, earn the Spaniard the benefit of the doubt.
But consider the reaction if Jose Mourinho had made a similarly blinkered promise.
The Manchester United manager would immediately be accused of his usual conceit and arrogance.
Guardiola should be lauded for his devotion to his possession-based principles, but the goalkeeping experiment just isn't working.
First, Bravo lacks the shot-stopping consistency of Joe Hart, a dispiriting fact that has become abundantly clear in recent weeks.
And second, playing from the back isn't always the answer. Opponents differ. Tactics are tweaked.
At the Nou Camp, Barcelona profited from their former coach's inflexibility.
Bravo's red card resulted from a long ball over the top, an unorthodox route for the hosts, but one designed to test the fleet-footed goalkeeper. He failed miserably.
But Bravo and his back four are programmed to play out of their box, no matter what, so City should prepare for further blunders. Guardiola wants his goalkeepers to keep kicking.
2 Midfield prejudice may not work
Lionel Messi. PHOTO: AFP
Whenever Lionel Messi's name crops up in an interview, Guardiola manages a rueful smile. He reveres his former colleague.
For Guardiola, the impish, unstoppable Argentinian is the definitive striker because he isn't one.
He's a midfielder with a magic wand, an intelligent impresario who collects the ball in a deep position and keeps prodding and jinking until the scoreboard changes.
Guardiola covets nifty, creative dynamos who can also score goals by the bucket load.
He has said as much, once claiming that his ultimate goal was 100 per cent possession, achieved with a team full of midfielders.
He opted for something similar at the Nou Camp, determined to squeeze Barcelona with six buzzing midfielders and no conventional strikers.
City mostly matched the hosts up until Bravo's 53rd-minute red card and Guardiola blamed a lack of good fortune for their failure to score.
But was it? Ilkay Guendogan, Kevin de Bruyne and John Stones all spurned decent opportunities.
But at least one of those chances might have been converted by Sergio Aguero, the striker so shocked at his non-selection that he didn't bother coming out for the pre-match warm-up.
3 Aguero was too little, too late
Sergio Aguero. PHOTO: AFP
Barcelona were vulnerable at the back.
Jordi Alba's lack of fitness was immediately exploited, with Raheem Sterling skinning the left back a couple of times until the Spaniard was substituted.
Gerard Pique also didn't reach half-time. Barcelona were two key defenders down and relying on three irregular Frenchmen to hold their back four together.
Indeed, Jeremy Mathieu was so erratic, and occasionally off the pace, that there was an air of inevitability about his second yellow card.
And still, Aguero stayed on the bench.
The best finisher in City's squad played sacrificial lamb to Guardiola's midfield doctrine.
When Barca lost two defenders before half-time, Aguero stayed put. By the time the Argentinian was introduced in the 79th minute, the game was over and his cameo pointless.
In the other dugout, Luis Enrique adapted his tactics and bypassed City's extra midfielder, insisting on more direct balls to Neymar and Luis Suarez.
He also adapted his defence with two early substitutions. But Guardiola, if truth be told, did nothing.
4 Pep rushing the job with wrong players
Sergio Busquets. PHOTO: AFP
The EPL's title favourites were outplayed by an under-strength Barcelona.
To his credit, Guardiola is under no illusion. He knows he needs years, not months, to make City serious continental challengers. But four games without a win suggest that he's trying to fast-track a formation with the wrong players.
He doesn't have Bayern's Manuel Neuer, but insists on playing the sweeper-keeper anyway. He lacks a defensive anchor of Sergio Busquets' pedigree, but picks a loose 4-1-4-1 to try and cage the Catalan giants.
He picks midfielders with the calibre to create chances on the counter-attack, but then leaves his only reliable finisher on the bench.
He accepts that City's evolution is a long-term project, but attempts immediate revolution with ill-equipped players. City are treading water as their manager swims in a sea of contradictions.
His philosophy concerning goalkeepers playing out from the back
"There will be no change. It stays the same. I'm sorry, until the last day of my career as a coach I will try to play from our goalkeeper. Sometimes there are mistakes and sometimes you have to kick the ball out but, most of the time, when we play good, it starts from there."
Leaving Sergio Aguero on the bench and using Kevin de Bruyne as a makeshift striker
"It was my idea. I wanted one more midfield player in that position and that was the reason why. I spoke with him (Aguero) and he was good."
Whether his side can challenge Barcelona at their level
"We lost the game 4-0, but we are a new club, we are getting to know each other. We are a club that for 35 years was not in Europe. We came here and played with huge personality, but it is always difficult to play Barcelona with 11. With 10, the game was over. Until then, the game was open."