A spectre from the past (again)
Barcelona are in Manchester to come face to face with a spectre of the past once again. And if it wasn’t enough to be playing against Pep Guardiola’s side, something that creates a deep discomfort within many, they will be staying at The Lowry – the very same hotel in which José Mourinho is currently lodging. Barcelona are not in England to bump into him of course, but Guardiola, for who this game is like a cup final. With a defeat on Tuesday, Manchester City’s passage to the second round could be put in some jeopardy. Barça on the other hand, with their nine points on the board, see the game from a more comfortable perspective. And that is when they are their best.
Guardiola's Barça were something else
Just this week, Lionel Messi analysed the difference between the Barcelona side of today and the one under Guardiola. “Now we’re more aggressive,” he said, and it’s true. They have better, I would say extraordinary, attacking players now too. In reverse, today Barcelona dominate games less. They have lost that distinction, that “perfect”, sometimes sickeningly good, football orchestrated by Xavi and Iniesta. That was another time. Now Barça are a good team with three formidable forwards, one of them superlative, and that allows them to win absolutely anything, yet it’s not quite the same. That Barça of Guardiola – although in effect strict and less aggressive – lives in the memory as something extraordinary.
Pep's new project
Guardiola too is a lesser force without Barcelona. That famous style of football was never seen at Bayern and he was knocked out in three consecutive years from the Champions League by Spanish teams (our three at the top of the class). Today Guardiola is reconstructing Manchester City, not just through philosophy but by money. It’s a more difficult task than at Bayern, a club with a solid base, a fixed identity and a habit of winning. A club, what’s more, with so much power in Germany that the Bundesliga is every year almost a guarantee. City have none of this, although it does have its economic clout: they’ve already signed €213 of talent and sold just €36m. The club will be expecting a return on that.