Manchester City's Tactical Approach Undermined by Demichelis' Moment of Madness

Rob PollardFeatured ColumnistFebruary 18, 2014

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18:  Martin Demichelis of Manchester City fouls Lionel Messi of Barcelona to concede a penalty and is subsequently sent off during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City and Barcelona at the Etihad Stadium on February 18, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

After Manchester City's group-stage humbling at the hands of Bayern Munich at the Etihad in October—when they were comprehensively outpassed and outplayed in midfield—there were suggestions that Manuel Pellegrini's tactics against the Germans were naive.

With that game still in mind, he opted to alter his favoured 4-2-2-2 formation for the first leg of his side's last-16 tie with Barcelona on Tuesday by playing an extra man in midfield, a move that saw City compete far better against the Catalan giants than they had against the Champions League holders.

However, a moment of madness from Martin Demichelis effectively ended the tie before the hour mark. The 33-year-old centre-back, who was always a risky inclusion given his lack of pace, had performed excellently for the majority of the game, until a foul on Lionel Messi, which denied the Argentine a goalscoring opportunity, saw him receive a red card and Barcelona were awarded a penalty.

Messi converted, and from that moment there was only ever likely to be one winner.

The initial contact was outside the box, making the awarding of the penalty harsh, but Demichelis must take responsibility for what was an ill-judged decision to slide in and take the man when the ball had clearly gone.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18:  Lionel Messi of Barcelona scores the opening goal from a penalty kick during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City and Barcelona at the Etihad Stadium on February 18, 2014 in Manc
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

It leaves City with little to no chance of qualifying for the quarter-finals, and thanks to his bizarre post-match comments, Pellegrini is likely to face a UEFA charge.

The City boss appeared to suggest Jonas Eriksson was determined to rectify a poor decision he'd given against Barcelona in a previous game. A foul on Jesus Navas in the buildup to the Messi's penalty was, in Pellegrini's eyes, ignored, as was the fact that Demichelis' foul was committed outside the area.

He told reporters:

The contact was outside the box, that was the contact. You cannot continue the foul; the first foul was outside the box. The important mistake is the foul against Navas, the second mistake was the penalty. But it was from the beginning. Barcelona did not have chances before the goal. It was a pity because that important action decided the game.

A big game with two important teams—that kind of game needs a referee with more experience. This referee whistled the Barcelona-Milan game in the group and he made an important error against Barcelona. Today he remedied it.

The referee from the beginning did not give a good impression. There was a penalty, we had one player less but the team played with courage.

For all the hype before the match, the game, in truth, was a disappointment, with both sides tentative in the early stages. Barcelona dominated the ball without ever really troubling City's goal, and a draw looked a likely result. 

The home side eventually began to impose themselves, creating some half-chances to score, but the penalty and red card decided the game and, most likely, the tie as a whole.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18:  Daniel Alves of Barcelona scores his team's second goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City and Barcelona at the Etihad Stadium on February 18, 2014 in Manchester, Englan
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Barcelona, buoyed by their numerical advantage, eventually scored another—a wonderfully worked goal finished expertly by Dani Alves. A 2-0 lead to take back to the Nou Camp looks unassailable for City, and their focus now returns to domestic matters.

It was a gut-wrenching evening for City, which will undoubtedly feel it was an opportunity missed. Barcelona are nowhere near the level they were circa 2011 and looked there for the taking on a night they lacking in flair and ingenuity. City failed to lay down a marker on the biggest night of the Sheikh Mansour era.

That's not to say there weren't positives. David Silva was excellent throughout, constantly looking to unlock the Barcelona defence with his vision and guile, and Vincent Kompany was, once again, outstanding at the back.

In the end, though, they fell short when mattered and look set to exit Europe's elite competition earlier than they would like, or, indeed, expect. 

They travel to Barcelona next month in faint hope rather than expectation.


Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @TypicalCity.