Things are not well at the Camp Nou, and if Manchester City finally decide to play the way we all know they can, they could be about to get much worse for Barcelona.
Ignore City’s defeat in the FA Cup at the weekend. The truth is that the blue side of Manchester will travel to Spain this week to face a side ripe for the taking, despite starting the second leg of this last-16 Champions League match two goals down.
Mathematically, of course, there’s still a long way to go before the destination of this season’s La Liga crown is decided. But the pro-Barcelona paper Sport had no doubt that the 1-0 defeat at Valladolid on Saturday was enough to cost the Catalans the title.
Nor did it hold back when apportioning blame. The front cover of the edition after the game proclaimed “The players threw away the league and we are embarrassed.”
On Saturday, lowly Valladolid showed City just how to do it. Two lines of four plus two front men constantly looking to create a two-versus-two situation with Manucho and Javi Guerra against Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano, terrier-like pressing, organised defence and, above all, a hunger to win.
A side with players well positioned to deliver the ball long and controlled, and one constantly harrying their opponents into giving the ball away. There is nothing that destroys this Barcelona side more than not having the ball.
With all the quality City have, you can add something else: Keeping the ball and forcing them to defend deep. City are far better equipped than Valladolid to take on a side that is coming to the end of its cycle. A side for whom, if not the style, then certainly a large part of its personnel needs changing.
What City mustn't do, if they are to have any hope at all of coming away with a result, is afford Barcelona the same reverential respect they did in the first leg at the Etihad, where they seemed to be waiting around for them to lose the ball rather than looking to provoke the error.
If they can keep the ball, pressure high and make life generally difficult for Barcelona, then anything can happen, particularly with the reappearance of Sergio Aguero in the Manchester City line-up.
But, of course, Barcelona is undoubtedly a big team for the big games, a side that switches on at the faintest sniff of glory. But it is also a side with mistakes in it, particularly when forced to defend without the ball.
If City manage to score early on, then there’s going to be some serious messing of minds among both players and supporters, because in truth, Barcelona’s occasionally fickle fans are just about to give up on their side.
In the minds of the public, defeat leave Barcelona with just the Copa del Rey to compete for. Should City win over the two legs, put your seat belt on. Because there’s going to be civil war at the Camp Nou with calls for early elections, discussions about the future of Tata Martino, and players sold.
Total mayhem, in fact.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!