Part of the problem of reducing entire teams to Big Tactical Ideas is that it builds false expectations of what will happen when they meet. Before last night the talk was of Man City finally breaking into the European elite in facing Barcelona at home, two giants of possession-based, high scoring football meeting head-to-head after years of unbalance.
And yet ten minutes in last night, the illusion there is a single, homogeneous style in build-up play in Europe was undone by the clear juxtaposition of the lanky giants in Blue taking on the upright, two-touch-and-go efficiency of the boys in red and purple (what are Barca’s colours, exactly?). One of these teams was not like the other. One of them didn’t belong.
Pellegrini’s post match stand up routine involving Sweden’s long love affair with Barcelona was him effectively taking one for the team in a game that could (and maybe should) have ended 3 or 4 nil Barca. City set up a disciplined camp in their own end, only to use the flanks on occasion to gain leverage against Tata Martino’s team that didn’t look too unlike Guardiola’s team.
This should be a warning for those waltzing into tonight’s game at the Emirates thinking yet again they’ll be watching two giants of possession-based, high scoring football meeting head-to-head. Wenger has already removed any doubt tonight when Arsenal meets Bayern. There are more footballing styles than are dreamt of in your reductive, paint-by-numbers philosophy.