Manchester City travel to the Camp Nou for the first time under Pep Guardiola in one of the most highly anticipated matchups of this year's Champions League. They're two of the best teams in Europe, and they're both chock-full of gamebreakers who can turn a match on its head at any moment. So what's going to be the difference-maker? It may come down to the wings.
As strong as both teams are, they're both arguably at their weakest at the fullback position. Barcelona have Spain's first-choice left-back Jordi Alba who's more than capable, but more of a conservative winger than a stay-at-home defender. On the other side, in the absence of departed Dani Alves, Sergi Roberto has performed wonderfully as an ersatz fullback, but he's a natural center-midfielder and has looked uncomfortable at times as he learns a new position.
Alba and Roberto will likely be facing Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne, two very different, but very dangerous opponents in their own way. With Sterling's pace and dribbling ability, De Bruyne's zipping and incisive runs and relative free role, their fluid interchanges could be Barcelona's undoing if their outside men aren't up to the task.
On the other side, Manchester City have any one of Gael Clichy, Aleksandr Kolarov and Pablo Zabaleta to choose from, with Bacary Sagna sidelined due to injury. All three of the aforementioned players are more than capable, but they've also been worryingly inconsistent at times, and could very well be liabilities against the caliber of opponents they're set to come up against.
Knowing this, Guardiola may just opt for a back three formation from the start, looking to pin Barcelona back and use that numerical advantage to, in Guardiola's words, “full-court press” their opposition. It's what he did with Bayern Munich in their Champions League semifinal first leg last year, and it worked, for a time. They only used it for around a quarter of an hour, but it seemed to accomplish what Guardiola wanted, making Barcelona abandon their typical style for a time, and forcing them to play more directly than they typically wanted.
From a Barcelona perspective, they likely won't change their style of play. Bayern Munich may have gotten them to switch it up a bit last year, but they were still the same Barcelona they always are, and they'll probably be the same Barcelona against City. And to be fair, at this point they really don't have to change their formula. They've got possibly the three most dangerous attacking threats in the world up front, with a pretty good midfield behind them (if you're into world class players like Iniesta, Busquets, and Rakitic), plus they're playing at home. The last time they came up against Guardiola, Barça didn't change their style aside from going a bit more direct at times, and that's likely to be the same case here.
These are two of the best teams in the world, and even pinpointing “weak points” in either side is almost laughable considering the quality that will be on display once the whistle blows and the first ball's kicked. If there are weaknesses to exploit though, the first place to look is definitely out wide. It remains to be seen if it matters in the end for this fantastic collections of players and coaches.