Is Mark Hughes Building a Barcelona Clone at Eastlands?

Say what you will about the obscene amount of money being spent by Manchester City this summer, but you have to admit that there’s a certain perverse pleasure in watching someone build a real-life club lineup in much the same way that most regular joes would create their starting XI in a video game.

Okay, let’s take West Brom out and put Sealand FC into the Premier League. I’ll build a giant floating stadium in the North Sea for them. Awesome. Let’s drop Kaká in the middle here, and David Villa up front with Jozy Altidore… ooh, gotta bump his numbers up a bit… Cool. Hey, let’s make a Kevin Garnett character and put him in goal. He seems like he could have been good at that…

Man City manager Mark Hughes hasn’t gone quite that crazy, of course, but at first glance, he appears to be making the same mistake most novice video gamers might make when building a team: loading up on strikers. At some point, a gamer realizes that Fernando Torres, Didier Drogba, Wayne Rooney, Lionel Messi, Kun Aguero and an injury-free Michael Owen — who seems to exist only in computers and preseasons — can’t all play together at once. Someone has to win the ball and control it in the midfield.

Of course, Hughes hasn’t forgotten this. That’s why he spent £17M on Nigel de Jong in January and another £12M on Gareth Barry this summer. Still, Manchester City has thrown a whopping £129M at forwards since being taken over by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan last August, and the projected front line of Robinho, Emmanuel Adebayor and Carlos Tevez alone cost more than £82M.

Throw Stephen Ireland in with Barry, de Jong and that forward trio, however, and Hughes’ plan begins to come into focus. Man City is attempting to emulate FC Barcelona.

And why not? Barcelona used their 4-1-2-3 formation to shatter opponents and win a convincing triple last year, so it’s practically destined to become imitated widely. It’s entirely possible that Sheikh Mansour, like the rest of us, watched Barca break down Manchester United in the UEFA Champions League Final and asked Hughes to build a side exactly like that. He’s also put Hughes in the unique position to do that with just about any players he wants.

The parallels are obvious. Adebayor is the big striker in the middle, a la Samuel Eto’o, while Robinho and Tevez are set wide like Thierry Henry and Lionel Messi. Barry and Ireland are there to control the midfield like Xavi and Iniesta and feed the forwards, while de Jong sits back and provides cover like Yaya Toure. Sort out the central defense, and Sparky could find himself managing a contender.

Plenty of questions remain, though. For starters, can Hughes rotate his strikers enough to keep everyone happy? Craig Bellamy, Roque Santa Cruz, Benjani, Valeri Bojinov, Felipe Caicedo and Ched Evans are all fighting for spots, too, and some of them won’t be satisfied playing just cup ties. Does Elano see any playing time in this midfield, which would suit his skills well, or is safe to assume he’ll be gone come August? And what happens to pure wingers like Shaun Wright-Phillips and Martin Petrov? Do they become square pegs in this triangular front six?

Ah, but that’s the fun thing about building a video game roster. When you’ve got the right players, you can experiment with just about any formation you want. Perhaps Hughes can revert back to the familiar 4-4-2 when the situation calls for it. It would be far more interesting, though, to see if that Barca-style 4-1-2-3 could succeed at Eastlands over a full season. In fact, I might just recreate that lineup myself in Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 this weekend and see how well it works.

16 thoughts on “Is Mark Hughes Building a Barcelona Clone at Eastlands?”

  1. Good call. That’s certainly the formation and players I use when playing as City on FIFA 09 with the new transfers added. People who think City are just signing players willy nilly should examine the signings they’ve made as carefully as the author of this piece has. Add Lescott and/or Terry and/or Touré and you’ll see City aren’t far from a very complete squad with depth that would make a couple of Big Four sides jealous.

  2. I think they are emulating Barcelona FC but the difference is they don’t have the quality in their ranks that Barcelona do.

    Barcelonas formation works so well due to the high quality players that play in the midfield and strike.

    I wouldn’t say Adebayor measures upto Eto’o and Robinho and Tevez are no Henry or Messi.

    Barry and Ireland wouldn’t be able to tie Xavi or Iniestas shoelace.

    The formation that Barcelona play just goes very well with the substantial quality of players they have and how well they work together. Barcelonas midfield and Xavi and Iniesta in particular really make it all work.

    For somebody else to emulate that formation with the success Barcelona have you have to match Barcelonas sheer quality and Manchester City is a country mile from signing players like Xavi or Messi.

  3. you’re an idiot the barca formation is more than just 4 1 2 3 its about the players involved. The formation requires highly technical players able to recieve the ball in tight quarters, control it and evade challenges or distribute the ball extremely accurately. Man city only has two players like this robinho and elano

  4. One, I think if anyone’s playing video game soccer here, it’s Florentino Perez. Two, isn’t the 4-1-2-3 destined to become the soccer equivalent of the spread offense in college football? Just like everyone adopted the spread after Urban Meyer had success with it at Utah and Florida, everyone will be playing around with the 4-1-2-3 in a few years now that Barca crushed everyone with it. Hughes and Man City just happen to be the first.

  5. Jeff: Or like everyone started adopting the Wildcat formation in the NFL once the Miami Dolphins started scoring touchdowns with it. Proof positive that all football codes are full of copycats.

  6. Ha ha. A typically English article. At least think before comparing the players of Barcelona and Man City.

    Sad that it doesn’t even take a treble to convince people about how Barcelona are a class apart from any team in the world today, including Real Madrid.

  7. These articles are becomes pretty common on EPLTalk as of late. One step closer to unsubscribing…

    There are roughly 6 weeks of the transfer window left. If there are that many strikers left at the club then, then this article may hold some ground. Did you expect Hughes to ship out forwards before signing new ones and risk unguaranteed replacements?

    I expect Robinho, Tevez, RSC, Bellamy, Adebayor and Bojinov to be there come 1st Sept. Caicedo is probably going out on loan, Jo is on loan, Evans is blatantly out of the door, Benjani will probably get sold too. Bellamy was signed in January mainly because he was the best available at that time and City needed goals. Simple, he was mainly used for those 6 months. Hughes did not sign him in Jan as his no1 striker for years to come.

    Another thing to consider in your article and the comments is this. The English league is faster and more aggressive than the Spanish league. Put Barcelona’s CL winning team into the Premiership and you cannot guarantee they’ll win it. Vice-versa, the same. Two different leagues built on different ways of playing the game.

    The typical shouts of Hughes just overloading on forwards is ignorant too. Lescott, Lucio and Terry have been well documented. With Onuoha, Kompany, Dunne, Richards, Garrido, Bridge, Tal Ben Haim and Zabaleta already, is Hughes just trying to fill a team full of defenders too? No, continual improvement.

  8. Nice idea, you always should learn from the best!
    We’ll see how the original and the clone will play vs each other at the Joan Gamper trophy on 19 August in Barcelona

  9. And finally, the cries of City copycatting the 4-1-2-3. Go look at City’s formation from when Hughes took over all the way back in August to May of this year…4-1-2-3. the same was mostly used under Sven too.

    Onuoha, Richards/Kompany, Dunne, Bridge
    Ireland, Elano/DeJong/Kompany
    SWP Robinho

  10. A good article. It’s tough to know how Hughes will try and fit his players into an actual team. City tried to play attacking football at home last year, and I’m sure they will be good to watch this year too.

    They might best playing a main target man (Ade or Santa Claus/Cruz) with Robino and Tevez playing behind him. Then they could have Barry on the left in midfield, Ireland the right, and De Jong in the centre.

    It’s the defence where they are lacking. Two top quality CBs are needed, and if they don’t get Terry or Lescott (decent, but overpriced) they need to spread the net further afield.

  11. I’d say Hughes is building more a team like Real Madrid’s. A team top heavy with talent. You cannot just buy and produce Barcelona football in a calendar year. It is a special brand of football based mostly on homegrown players playing the Barca way. Now that formula doesn’t ensure that Barca always wins trophies. Mind you, people shouldn’t assume that City or Real will not be able to win trophies just by spending. They could win trophies quickly. It’s just that they won’t necessarily do it playing Barca’s unique and beautiful brand of football.

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