Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

'Worst Barcelona side for eons' puts two past Hart to leave Manchester City Champions League dreams in tatters

Manchester City 0 Barcelona 2

FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates scoring his teams 1st goal past Manchester City's Joe Hart (left) during the UEFA Champions League, Round of 16 match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday February 18, 2014. See PA story SOCCER Man City. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates scoring his teams 1st goal past Manchester City's Joe Hart (left) during the UEFA Champions League, Round of 16 match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester.
Barcelona's da Silva Dani Alves and Manchester City's Aleksandar Kolarov (top) during the UEFA Champions League, Round of 16 match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday February 18, 2014. See PA story SOCCER Man City. Photo credit should read: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Barcelona's da Silva Dani Alves and Manchester City's Aleksandar Kolarov (top) during the UEFA Champions League, Round of 16 match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester.
Barcelona's Francesc Fabregas runs at the Manchester City defence during the UEFA Champions League, Round of 16 match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday February 18, 2014. See PA story SOCCER Man City. Photo credit should read: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Barcelona's Francesc Fabregas runs at the Manchester City defence during the UEFA Champions League, Round of 16 match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester.

If this was the worst Barcelona team for many years, then Manchester City would have been trudged off at the final whistle well-defeated but hugely relieved not to have been facing the best.

Jose Mourinho's barbed taunt was no doubt aimed at antagonising both City and the Catalans in one fell swoop, but Barcelona departed from Manchester satisfied that they had overcome Manuel Pellegrini's side in a manner that no other side has managed at the Etihad this season, not even Chelsea.

It was not so much the 2-0 scoreline, nor that Barcelona overwhelmed their opponents; in fact the excitement of this much-anticipated meeting felt rather flat by the final whistle.

It was more a state of mind that the fear of Lionel Messi and his mini warriors instil.

City have blasted aside almost all-comers to the Etihad this season, but Pellegrini's ultra-defensive set-up must have been a fillip to Barca's confidence.

That approach worked well until the dancing feet of the little Argentinian maestro were swept away by Martin Demichelis - the ultimate mismatch perhaps - to tip the balance in the favour of the visitors.

Barcelona certainly began as if Mourinho's carefully aimed poisoned arrow had lodged home. This was a side looking as though their whole philosophy was on trial and the possession statistics for the opening 20 minutes were a tribute to the virtues of tiki taka football.

Except that, for all the first half, the one Englishman on the field had stood calm, Joe Hart remaining untroubled as two tightly-packed pale blue lines manned the barricades.

The message was clear - the last 16 of the Champions League was uncharted territory for City and they were not going to sacrifice this opportunity on the altar of 'good football'.

And it worked. By the break Barcelona had been restricted to a long-range effort from Xavi plus a couple of half-openings that City - not least their much-maligned defender Demichelis - swiftly closed.

The best chances had in fact come at the other end, where Alfredo Negredo first failed from a very tight angle, and then wasted a header that should have been tasty meat and drink for this Beast.

It could not last, and it did not. Andres Iniesta's sublime pass set Messi free and, although Demichelis dived in outside the area, the contact continued into it, allowing referee Jonas Eriksson to award both a penalty and red card.

It was only when down to 10 men and behind 1-0 to Messi's penalty that City shrugged off their fetters. David Silva, as good as any other Spaniard on the night, brought a terrific save from Victor Valdes, while Gael Clichy wasted a clear opportunity late on.

It was left to Neymar, another one of the "worst Barcelona" team, to come off the bench and set up Dani Alves for the goal that should put this tie out of City's reach.

Cesc Fabregas trooped off in triumph to tell the TV cameras that "some people are talking too much and now they will have to shut up for a few days".

Barcelona's reward could be Chelsea in the quarter-finals - now that really would be something.

How the match unfolded

Four-time World Player of the Year Messi struck from the penalty spot with 54 minutes gone after being brought down by Martin Demichelis, who was sent off.

City had their chances but Barcelona dominated possession throughout and were rewarded when Alves struck the second in the last minute.

City had set up well in an attempt to soak up Barcelona pressure and catch them on the break but the task proved beyond them after Messi punished a mistake early in the second half.

The Argentinian raced away and, although replays suggested contact by Demichelis may have been just outside the box, a straight red card was brandished and the penalty awarded.

The hosts kept on pressing but they failed to make the most of their opportunities and they were picked off again as time ran out.

Barcelona coach Gerard Martino had said the key to victory was possession and so it proved, as the visitors controlled the ball for long spells.

Yet City appeared to have been expecting that having packed midfield.

Fernandinho's return from injury allowed manager Manuel Pellegrini to deploy five across the middle with Alvaro Negredo operating as a lone striker.

After 14 minutes largely on the back foot, but with Barca yet to create a clear-cut chance, Vincent Kompany picked out Negredo with a long ball.

The powerful forward controlled well on the edge of the box but Javier Mascherano, with whom he regularly battled, managed to scramble away.

Negredo caused more trouble in the box after Jesus Navas crossed from the right but Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson penalised him for a foul on goalkeeper Victor Valdes.

Barca had another scare as Valdes was beaten in the air by Kompany at a corner but he scrambled back to gather on the line. Negredo had another chance from outside the area but shot straight at Valdes.

All these chances punctuated spells of prolonged Barca possession and the Catalans did eventually pierce the hard-working back line of Kompany and Demichelis.

Cesc Fabregas played in Andres Iniesta only for Yaya Toure to get back and Messi linked well with Xavi and Iniesta before shooting over.

Joe Hart saved well from a strong Xavi shot and Kompany bundled Messi over.

Negredo had another chance to open the scoring before half-time but glanced a header wide from Navas' cross.

City were to regret those missed chances as Barcelona upped the tempo for the second half.

Messi certainly appeared to move up the gears and did well to release Fabregas down the left.

That attack came to nothing but Messi was clearly in the mood and had the hosts, and particularly, Demichelis in trouble as he burst through on goal.

Demichelis could not keep pace and slid in in a desperate attempt to tackle, but succeeded only in tripping his fellow Argentinian.

Contact appeared to be just outside the area but Eriksson pointed to the spot and gave Demichelis his marching orders.

Messi calmly stroked home the penalty down the centre as Hart dived to left.

Pellegrini sent on Joleon Lescott to reinforce the defence but recognised damage limitation was not an option and also introduced Samir Nasri.

Nasri was soon in the action and had a shot blocked from a Negredo lay-off.

Barca could have taken even greater command of the tie as Xavi shot over and Alves fired across goal.

City broke again but Gael Clichy wasted an opening and a well-struck Silva volley was clutched by Valdes.

The hosts, however, may have had a stroke of luck as Gerard Pique had a late goal ruled out for a marginal offside.

Edin Dzeko had a late chance for City but was harshly penalised for a foul.

There was no reprieve for City in the final minute as Alves got behind the defence and fired past Hart.

 

Messi Watch

Four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi was the main danger for Manchester City to combat as they faced Barcelona in the Champions League.

MOVEMENT

There often appeared little movement from the Argentinian as Barcelona patiently controlled possession but, in the blink of an eye it seemed, he could accelerate away. He caught City napping early in the second half and seconds later the complexion of the tie changed as he was brought down and scored from the spot, with Martin Demichelis sent off.

POSSESSION

Came deep a lot to receive the ball and often looked for a pass. Occasionally though he would burst into life from a standing start and push City onto the back foot.

PASSING

Maybe still not back to his optimum fitness after recent injuries but his link-up play with the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Xavi and Andres Iniesta was dangerous. City defended well for long periods but the threat never receded.

FINISHING

City dealt with him well in the first half, limiting him to a shot over the bar and a blocked free-kick. There were not many clear-cut opportunities for him after the break either but he tucked home the penalty with great composure.

OVERALL

City watched him well on the whole but his movement and runs from deep made him almost impossible to contain. One mistake proved highly costly. With another three weeks' worth of action, he could be an even deadlier proposition in the second leg.

MAN CITY V BARCELONA: RATINGS

PLAYER RATINGS - MANCHESTER CITY

Joe Hart: Had had a pretty quiet evening until he picked Messi's penalty out of his net, and then beaten again late on. 6

Pablo Zabaleta: Tough task dealing with Iniesta but kept calm and set up Silva for a great late chance. 7

Vincent Kompany: Embodied City's defensive spirit, some terrific challenges. 8

Martin Demichelis: He may be the butt of many jokes, but he was excellent until his red card for bringing down Messi. 7

Gael Clichy: Teamed up with Kolarov to keep Messi and Dani Alves from marauding down City's left flank and it worked for most of the time. 6

Jesus Navas: Played so deep he was almost a full-back, but had the pace to unsettle Jordi Alba at times and set up Negredo for a great chance. 6

Fernandinho: Unyielding at the heart of the midfield, he worked hard to try to draw the sting from Barcelona. 7

Yaya Toure: Rarely ventured forward - not a memorable match against his former club. 5

Aleksandar Kolarov: Good physical tussle with Alves ended honours even. 6

David Silva: His style is so much like a Barcelona player, and came so close to an equaliser late on but shot was well saved. 7

Alvaro Negredo: Would have been bitterly disappointed not to make the most of two good chances. 5

Subs:

Joleon Lescott: Came on to fill the gap left by Demichelis' dismissal. 6

Samir Nasri: Had a positive impact after coming on. 6

Edin Dzeko: Looked as though he might be the hero but pushed Pique at crucial moment. 5

 

PLAYER RATINGS - BARCELONA

Victor Valdes: Unsettled at times by Negredo's physical presence but dealt with City's efforts well. 7

Dani Alves: Kept at bay for much of the time by City's defensive-minded set-up but then scored a last-minute second goal. 7

Gerard Pique: Unflustered presence in Barca's defence and had a goal wrongly ruled out for offside. 7

Javier Mascherano: Even against Negredo, refused to be out-muscled. 6

Jordi Alba: Not one of his most eye-catching performances. 6

Xavi: Kept the tiki taka-meter ticking over and a couple of decent strikes. 7

Sergio Busquets: Often looked second-best to Silva. 6

Cesc Fabregas: The now-bearded maestro played his part. 7

Alexis Sanchez: Found City's packed defence difficult to break down. 5

Lionel Messi: Difference between the teams - superb run to win the penalty and fired home the spot-kick with aplomb. 8

Andres Iniesta: Typical skilful performance but just lacking an edge. 6

Subs:

Neymar: Came on to set up Alves' goal. 6

 

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