Martín Demichelis was suspended for Wednesday night’s game, much to the relief of some Manchester City supporters. However his replacement, Joleon Lescott suffered a miserable second leg in Camp Nou as the centre-half was ran ragged by Lionel Messi and his fellow Barcelona stars. Manuel Pellegrini’s continued faith in the Argentine and failure to buy adequate cover at the back could ultimately undermine the club’s season. Demichelis’s performances have consistently failed to match the level required for one of the league’s best sides. Reckless penalties conceded contributed largely to City’s Champions League exit and shock FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Championship side Wigan Athletic. With Lescott also contributing to City’s downfall in Europe, City must rue not aggressively pursuing defensive reinforcements in January. It will be interesting to see if Pellegrini continues to stick with the Argentinean, who played under him during his managerial spell at Málaga, as City enter a pivotal stage in their season – a period in which his job could be called into question.
Despite their comfortable victory, it is unclear whether Barcelona will remain one of Europe’s dominant teams in the near future. Barcelona’s 1-0 defeat by Valladolid at the weekend was more than just a disappointing score line or dropped points – the result punctuated their struggles this season. Change is already in progress, with long-time servant and legendary captain Carles Puyol announcing his Barca departure at the end of the season. In what was arguably their worst performance of the season, they only managed to create two chances against a Valladolid side that had not won since December, falling to their third defeat in six league games. Barca have increasingly flattered to deceive this season and despite often maintaining high levels of possession are increasingly struggling with movement and creating chances. Since the start of the year their five-point lead in the league has turned into a four-point deficit. Manager Gerardo Martino is under increasing pressure and things have soured under his tenure since he attempted to implement a more direct and counter-attacking style to the despair of the Catalan fans. Barca’s problems extend off the field with the resignation of president Sandro Rosell and allegations of fraud and tax avoidance. The absence of trophy this season could send the club towards turmoil.
Following his arrival this summer, Neymar was expected to form a formidable partnership with Messi and the potential of the partnership seemed frighteningly limitless. To date, though, the double act has struggled to get off the ground, largely due to alternating injuries between the pair and a failure to click when in the line-up together. They have looked far more effective individually fuelling the sentiment that the pair will struggle to maximise their talents playing as a partnership. Messi and Neymar have rarely played together for prolonged periods in games which has slowed the developing of their partnership. As the end of the season draws near their partnership will have to improve to keep away the critics and aid in their bid for silverware.
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