MANCHESTER CITY 0-2 BARCELONA
A lukewarm Barcelona overcame a stern test from Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, thanks to a gift of a penalty from Lionel Messi at the beginning of the second half, and a late Dani Alves strike. Pre-match Jose Mourinho suggested that this was the weakest Barca team in years, but based on this performance, they look hot favourites to progress to the next stage.
Barcelona, as ever, started brightly dominating the opening possession, but the first chance of the game feel to Man City when David Silva’s shot from the edge of the box was blocked. The game was in danger of turning scrappy when a series of silly free kicks were awarded against both sides with the aggressive Dani Alves in the thick of it before being booked for his 4th foul on 22 minutes.
City’s defence was resolute throughout, and were slowly beginning to win the midfield battle and started seeing more and more of the ball, eventually putting the Barcelona defence under pressure. City, however, could not find the finishing touch and spurned several chances to take the lead. Much of the first half was a tight affair, and not much was given. Vincent Kompany in particular shone throughout the game keeping the Argentinian master Messi very quiet.
City’s defence held firm until the 54th minute, when the defining moment of the match happened. A loose ball by a City defender was seized upon by Messi who went racing through, Martin Demichelis cutting him down on the edge of the area. Demichelis was having a mixed game up until that point however the pace of the Messi was too much for him. A straight red was justified, but a penalty looked harsh; the foul appeared to be outside the area. Messi stepped up and eased the ball past Joe Hart.
It was always a gamble to start with Demichelis, whose lack of pace was constantly exposed by Barcelona, however until that point Manuel Pellegrini’s decision looked to be justified.
A goal up and against 10 men, Barca would normally accelerate at this point making the return leg all but a formality. But City dug deep and some resolute defending helped, and they were unlucky when with 13 minutes remaining Silva tested Victor Valdes with a good volley, and the Barca keeper did well to hold.
Then with seconds left of normal time, Barca sealed the game and essentially the tie, when Dani Alves raced down the wing before cutting inside and slotting the ball under the hapless Joe Hart.
City will feel aggrieved with the penalty decision, which in all fairness was hard for the officials to spot due to the speed of the game. They have it all to do in the Camp Nou in 3 weeks to keep their quadruple hopes alive, and the timely appearance of Sergio Aguero will help to lift spirits, but beating Barca by two clear goals is no mean feat and may be a step too far for Pellegrini’s City side.
MAN CITY: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy, Navas (Nasri 58), Fernandinho, Toure, Kolarov (Lescott 58), Silva, Negredo (Dzeko 74).
SUBS NOT USED: Pantillimon, Richards, Javi Garcia, Jovetic.
BOOKINGS: Negredo 28, Kolarov 35.
SENT OFF: Demichelis 52.
BARCELONA: Valdes, Dani Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba, Xavi, Busquets, Fabregas (Sergi Roberto 86), Iniesta, Alexis (Neymar 74), Messi.
SUBS NOT USED: Pinto, Bartra, Adriano, Song, Pedro.
GOALS: Messi 54P, Dani Alves 90.
BOOKINGS: Dani Alves 25, Mascherano 76.
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