Tata Martino has had to run the gauntlet quite a bit in Catalonia just lately.
Such an insipid performance at the weekend had prompted fresh criticism of the Barcelona manager.
Where was the style Barca had become famous for? The urgency that defined Guardiola’s Barca?
In truth, the 90 minutes against Valladolid warranted the backlash. It was horrible.
But by the same token, Martino certainly deserves the plaudits tonight.
Barca put in a professional performance against a team many are tipping for the English Premier League title.
Against a much more physically imposing Manchester City side, the Blaugrana got back to what they do best.
It was simple, back to basics. But it was Barcelona.
The disco dancing feet of Andres Iniesta particularly caught the eye, City just about staying alive in the early exchanges.
Lionel Messi too was scaring the life out of Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott.
How he was denied a clear penalty after a clumsy Lescott challenge on eight minutes only the referee will know.
And it wouldn’t be the only crucial decision the officials got wrong.
Bar their intervention, Barca would’ve had the tie won by half-time.
In any event, it was the subtle changes which won Barcelona the game, and for that, credit has to go to the manager.
An extra midfielder in Cesc Fabregas. Messi wide right. Target David Silva, whose lack of influence was notable.
Yes, Tata’s tactics were spot on.
To illustrate the point further, City’s danger man Sergio Aguero had barely touched the ball before a "hamstring injury" forced him off at half-time.
However, the Blues were far from impotent opposition.
Whilst their first genuine chance in the match didn’t arrive until the 40th minute, through Samir Nasri, there was an intake of breath each time Yaya Toure et al strode forward with purpose.
Forays became sharper and more urgent, but Barcelona were equal to every challenge.
At the back, so often Barca’s Achilles heel, they were rarely troubled. When they were breached, Victor Valdes was in inspired form.
With possession relatively equal for a change—57 percent to 43 percent in Barca’s favour, per whoscored.com—the Blaugrana just let the football do the talking.
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