At the Camp Nou, the outcome of the game was decided after just 17 minutes, when Lionel Messi broke the deadlock following a defensive mix-up which eventually led to a communication breakdown—inside the 6 yard-box, no less. A period in the middle with little action of note followed, with both keepers determined to better their outfield teammates in the number of passes. Alas, if someone could just tell them how inessential and boring all this play-out-from-the-back stuff is. Not to mention, there’s a pretty good chance somebody dies of heart-attack whenever Ter Stegen lingers on the ball too long.
Guardiola chose to counter Barcelona’s playing style with—surprise—a playing style mimicking Barcelona. City pressed high; really, really high. Ter Stegen will take comfort in the fact that the Citizens afforded him at least some level of respect; the same cannot be said of Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba.
The headlines, though, were dominated pre-match by one man by the name of Sergio Agüero.
Why in the name of god did Guardiola not start him?
I get the he’s-the-next-big-thing-in-management and all that crap, but seriously. Why?
The Argentinian wasn’t given the start against Everton this past weekend, either. Sure, Pep dreams of fielding a side completed only with midfielders and no forwards/defenders. But this wasn’t a backyard kickball. This was Barcelona. With flipping Messi, Suarez, and Neymar threatening to blow up this billionaire-tycoon no history football club in the rear end.
You just can’t start with your best rocket on the bench. Ever.
A similar storyline was traced last season, when Pep benched Thomas Müller against Atletico Madrid, Bayern’s newfound archrivals. Probably the most intelligent football player the world’s ever seen, Müller is an emblem of everything that represents Bayern Munich. Being touted as a future ambassador for the club already, he’s one of the leaders on the field that propels the Bundesliga champions forward. Of course, Bayern went on to lose over the two legs of the tie, and Guardiola’s stock amongst the Bavaria faithful took a considerable knock. Imagine if City had faced Barcelona in one of the later rounds of the competition when Guardiola made this Agüero omission.
I doubt he would have physically survived the brutal torment then from the after-matchday outrage.
Regardless, the former Blaugrana manager is still learning to ply his trade in a new team, a new country, speaking in a foreign language. Tweaking formations and lineups is to be expected when a new man is in charge. But he’s deceiving himself if he believes he can beat Europe’s elite teams without fielding his best player.