Date: 19th October 2016 at 10:52pm
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City were not beaten by Barcelona at the Camp Nou tonight they were beaten by themselves. A catalogue of disasters in the Blues defence concluded on every occasion by the ball ending up in the back of City’s net courtesy of Messi who otherwise did practically nothing.

Guardiola effectively shocked allcomers by relegating Aguero to the bench. Was he carrying a knock or was it his punishment for not scoring a penalty at the weekend? How come De Bruyne didn’t suffer the same fate? Instead he was given Aguero’s shirt, nominated to lead the attack. The rest of the line-up was predictable.

In the early exchanges City gave as good as they got and were settling down into the tie when after 15 minutes a “going nowhere” ball into the box saw Fernandinho at last put a foot wrong and inexplicably fall over. This presented an easy one to the bemused Messi and he duly set his team on its way easily sliding the ball past Bravo.

The Azulgrana looked to be getting into their stride, but City responded with a superb move involving Gundogan whose final shot was a bit tame and easily kept out by Ter Stegen. Ahead of the break a set piece found Stones in the box but his free header to the near post was once again easy meat for Ter Stegen with the far post gaping.

Such are the fine lines at this level. When you get a chance at the Camp Nou you have to take it and City having clawed themselves back into the match found themselves at half time with more shots on target than their glittering counterparts but still one goal adrift.

The second half started with City coming into an ascendancy. Now moving the ball slightly faster and with De Bruyne conducting himself in a more roaming role. Things looked as though they were about to start to happen for City but a long punt towards the City goal found its way to Bravo, outside his penalty area. An easy looking clearance was fluffed in the direction of the diving grass chomper Suarez and his goalbound shot was handled unnecessarily by Bravo. Out came the ubiquitous red card and City were down to 10 men. In among this, what looked like a foul on Zabaleta had gone unrecognised by the referee, so a defensive reshuffle was necessary as Zaba headed for the tunnel alongside Bravo.

Nolito was sacrificed to allow Caballero to enter the field as replacement net minder and Clichy replaced Zaba meaning that Otamendi took the right back berth, Kolarov the centre back position and Clichy his usual left back slot.

It took City far too long to adjust mentally to this game of musical chairs and within five minutes or so Messi had put the game to bed pouncing on mistakes by Stones and Gundogan for a quick-fire one-two, a hat trick and good night. He was also flattened to win a penalty which Neymar, playing his 150th Barcelona game failed to place beyond Caballero, once again some sort of hero saving the spot kick.

Shortly thereafter, however, Neymar was to make amends scoring the goal of the match, albeit as a result of desperate attempts at defending by Otamendi who looks more like he is destined for an early exit from Etihad Towers, for me the sooner the better, and Stones, who by now had given up the ghost. Even this goal had the look of Christmas about it.

In among all of this City had the better of the chances but effectively had no one around to make them count. Two fell to Stones, a freeheader and a free shot both from unmarked positions. I know he is not a striker but would Sergio Ramos or Pique have obliged in quite the same way?

Also, time and again, De Bruyne opened things up down Barcelona`s right and time and again his crosses went unattended or found Ter Stegen waiting patiently at the near post. Without Aguero there was no real positive movement in the box that might have changed the night`s outcome.

For Barcelona`s part Alba left the field early with a hamstring injury, then Pique was the victim of a challenge by Silva and was replaced by Matthieu. This should have given City some hope because this guy certainly, in my book, isn`t up to the Camp Nou standard and so it proved when a couple of ridiculous challenges, the latter on Sterling saw him collect two yellows and join Bravo in the expulsion compound. But City had already gifted the match to a team that really didn`t deserve to win by the type of margin they had achieved.

There were some flashes of good football from the Blues, but not enough to cause the Azulgrana problems and there never seemed to be anyone on hand to add the final touch after neat work by Sterling, Nolito when he was on, De Bruyne and Fernadinho set up chances. In fact City could have got something out of this match until they delivered up goal after goal to the hosts with the panache of a delivery courier on steroids. To beat Barcelona you have to play like Barcelona. City at times played like them but looked as though they were wearing cement wellies.

I am more than happy with City`s forward football. They always look as though they have a goal in them. But at the back it is a total nightmare. All the clubs senior full backs are finished, especially at this level. Otamendi is more scary than the clowns that are terrorising the United States and when you add this to the “new found way” of the goal keeper starting your attacks, our heads go under the blankets.

The Argentino looks clueless, Zaba looks dated, Clichy looks too much off-plan and Kolarov, who earlier took on the appearance of a decent looking left back has gone backwards. The defenders that City want and need will not be around in January. It is likely that they will still be involved in the Champions League at a time when City might not. It is time for Guardiola to introduce players like Maffeo and Angelino. How can we call on them if they are not given a chance? Let`s face it, and I have said this time and again, they can`t do any worse than those they are replacing. For Stones, City`s “success of the season” this was a steep learning curve. At this level you deal in milliseconds, you deal with speed of thought, you deal with Messi. I don`t think Stones looked too much up for it tonight. This was undoubtedly his biggest ever club match and he frankly, even according to Sue, looked out of his depth. Plus he really did throw in the towel as Neymar was setting up his goal.

My dad thinks the jury is still out on Guardiola. His team selections at time baffle me and to enter this match without your key striker looked a bit naïve. Once again a rip-roaring start to the season has been stopped in its tracks, with the Blues failing to post a victory now in four matches, with a tricky match against Southampton up next, the Stretford Thursday Night specialists in midweek and an unflavoured trip to the Hawthorns at the weekend and all before Barca roll up at the Etihad. There are no easy matches are there?

City need to arrest this slump. They need to get back to moving the ball around quickly, creating chances and then taking them. There are no excuses.

Tonight was exceptional for a number of reasons. It looks as though the Blues were pasted 4-0. That`s what the scoreline says. But the truth is every goal that the Catalans scored was gift-wrapped in a blue and white ribbon. Messi scored his 37th and easiest hat trick without having to do more than tap a ball into the net three times. Neymar`s goal for me was the best, but it too came with kisses. Indeed I can`t believe dear Susan`s kisses could have been sweeter. She too was more than perplexed by City`s performance. Her own team might only be playing once a week, but she does show a shine for City in Europe`s elite club tournament.

At the other end whatever City created didn`t have that quality of footballer on the end of it and in the end that is what tonight`s story is about. Thankfully this wasn`t a first-leg-of-two and the only damage done is recoverable in the group stages. We could have done with Celtic and Gladbach having a point-share, but the Germans succeeded where City could not. On the basis that City will not beat Barcelona even at home, they will need to beat both Borussia and Celtic to secure a place in the knockout stages, assuming that the Germans suffer a similar fate in the Camp Nou. With Barcelona comfortably in possession of the lead of the group they could play a shadow side against Gladbach to add some interest. Despite Beating City 4-0 tonight, they might still regard the Blues as more of a threat further down the competition and a tactical defeat to the Germans could find City wanting and in danger of going out or worse still joining the Stretfords in the Europa League.

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