Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Manchester City no match for classy Barcelona when heat is on

Off you go: Martin Demichelis is shown the red card last night

Another season of European failure for Manchester City then.

At least they made it into the last 16 of the Champions League this time, but there the journey will end after Barcelona proved too good and too experienced to win 2-0 in the first leg at the Etihad Stadium.

Thousands of City fans are travelling to the Nou Camp next month for the return fixture but it's a sight seeing trip for them now.

The game is up halfway in... and what should frustrate more than anything is that the boys in blue allowed the visitors to take control without having to play anywhere near the extraordinary level they can.

The domestic treble might still be on for Manuel Pellegrini's side, but domination on a global scale remains a long way off.

This was City's big night.

They had underperformed in the competition before, but everyone in their camp told us they were ready to show the world they belonged in the big league.

Well, when a serious test of their credentials came they failed.

With home advantage and a crowd revved up by Oasis tunes prior to the game, City showed Barcelona too much respect, first with Pellegrini's conservative team selection and then the way his players started the match.

Right from the first whistle they allowed Barcelona too much time and space to ping the ball all over the turf.

City's game plan was to counter attack the Catalans and win free-kicks which could unsettle a Barcelona defence uncomfortable and on occasion incapable of dealing with a high ball around the area.

It was a bit like the way a non-league side takes on a top flight team in the FA Cup, yet this was Manchester City, scoring goals like they are going out of fashion when faced with English opposition, and a club that has spent billions on recruiting world class talent to compete and win games of the magnitude such as this.

While City opted to play hit and hope, Barcelona did what they do, passing and probing, waiting patiently for and believing an opening would come eventually.

They were far from their best and with City defending in numbers, the game was dull, disappointing and not coming close to the hype.

Then came Barca's opportunity on 54 minutes and like the clinical, class outfit they are they took it with Andres Iniesta providing a perfect pass for the up until then ineffective Lionel Messi to race on to with a clear run on goal.

Martin Demichelis, on the wrong side of his man, brought Messi down and a penalty was awarded, which the little maestro casually slotted home past Joe Hart in the Manchester City goal.

Demichelis will argue that his foul started outside the box but he could not raise a worthy debate about his dismissal.

He had to go.

And any chance City had went with him. Playing Barcelona with 10 men is not advised for any team.

To their credit City rallied and began to push forward themselves, but when Dani Alves deservedly made it 2-0 late on, everyone in the stadium knew Barca had qualified for the last eight.

City will have to patiently wait until next year to prove they are a force in European football.

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