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Outclassed Manchester City suffer a one-goal hammering by Barcelona

Barcelona 1 Manchester City 0 (Barcelona win 3-1 on aggregate)

By Ian Herbert

The scoreline was broadly in line with expectation but the scale of the demolition, on a night when Joe Hart put in one of the finest displays of English goalkeeping in living memory, was one that made you worry for the fabric of Manchester City.

They were overpowered in a way which must leave players who have hung their hat on this club's tilt at world domination, David Silva and Sergio Aguero for example, wondering whether it is worth staying around for what still feels like a very long journey indeed.

While the timing is not good for a change of manager, because there are simply few likely to be around who fit the City mould this summer, the class differential suggested that this is a squad which needs ripping up, starting again, and imbuing with a mentality and tactical acuity to prevent it being overwhelmed in this way.

There is no shame in being cut away by the best of Lionel Messi but there was a shame in the fruits of close to half a billion pounds of transfer investment being reduced to this.

The preparatory routines were just the same: Hart walking on with that white towel flung over his shoulder, Vincent Kompany taking the running leap and practice jump to get the tension out of his legs. There were actually interventions from Kompany and Martin Demichelis in the first minute or two which suggested some City intent.

But the night of 1,000 cuts began very early and from this position in the gods, where the beautiful, terrifying geometry of Catalan football is visible in such vast perspective, the sentiment was one of desperation and sorrow for what was happening to an English team.

The central space offered up to the galaxy of talents sent a shiver through City every time the home side moved forward. There was just no-one in the middle - no discipline or rigour - to stem the tide.

But no-one had it worse in the first 45 minutes than Bacary Sagna, a player utterly out of his depth.

It was Sagna's area of responsibility which was left gaping a minute past the half hour, when Messi, facing the combined defensive force of Aleksandr Kolarov and James Milner on Barcelona's left, paused, assessed, levered a left foot cross to the free space from which Ivan Rakitic chested it down and lifted it assuredly over Hart's head into the net.

You could pick any one of a dozen opportunities that the Spaniards had to tie the night up early. They hit the post twice in that first period and Hart was forced into two more saves within three minutes of the time City had to regroup in the dressing room.

Briefly - and against all rationale - there was the fleeting prospect of a City breakthrough. Aguero was marginally clipped by Gerard Pique in the box but watched Marc-Andre ter Stegen leap to his right to save the resultant penalty with 12 minutes to go.

Hart's last breathtaking save, palming away from Neymar in injury time, prompted Suarez to offer him a handshake before the corner. He left the field last, buoyed by what he had achieved. His team-mates' sentiments will be different.

Belfast Telegraph


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