The much-awaited clash of Manchester City and Barcelona in the Champions League knockout stage resulted in a 2-0 first leg win for the Spaniards, meaning Manuel Pellegrini’s charges need a minor miracle to avoid European elimination.
With the Etihad Stadium acting as the venue for some of England’s top teams being put to the sword this term, hopes were high that City could claim ascendancy in the tie. Changing of the guard was mentioned; a revolution of financial muscle over tradition and history.
After the 90 minutes, talk of this uprising have been well and truly muted, with the La Liga giants proving that talk of their potency being diminished is foolish and premature.
Pellegrini stated before the game that he would send his side out to play like they usually do, with swashbuckling attacking impetus the usual order of the day. As it panned out, the Chilean’s words were not adhered to.
The conservative selection of Aleksandar Kolarov on the left wing instead of Samir Nasri gave an insight into City’s reticence to take the game to the Spaniards. From the first minute, Barcelona took their customary control of possession and hence proceedings.
The biggest night in Manchester City’s history it may well have been, but the hosts looked overawed by the occasion. Their usual high-intensity pressing style and overarching control of the game was nowhere to be seen.
Although City were not at their best, Barcelona’s quality was evident for all to see. Their one-touch football, movement off the ball and interplay had the home team’s midfield chasing shadows, and although the visitors did not create a glut of chances, they always looked superior.
The decision to award Barcelona a penalty and show Martín Demichelis a red card early in the second half was the correct one, and changed the game. However, City should not use this as an excuse, as they were second best throughout.
The home team felt the absence of Sergio Agüero in their attack. Although Álvaro Negredo worked hard throughout, the Argentine’s electric pace and ability to something exceptional could well have ensured that City offered more of an attacking threat.
Much was made of Yaya Touré facing his former employers for the first time, but the usually dominant Ivorian had a largely anonymous showing by his lofty standards. With Barca having three in the centre of midfield, both Touré and Fernandinho battled well but found themselves outnumbered; the African’s offensive attributes were nullified as a result.
Although City’s players were largely second best against world-class opposition, two of the home side’s stars shone.
Vincent Kompany was a rock in the heart of the hosts’ defence, and made some timely interceptions and tackles. The Belgian had to make up for firstly Demichelis and then Joleon Lescott’s shortcomings, and did not deserve to be on the losing side. Barcelona would surely love to have someone of his calibre in their rearguard with Carles Puyol coming to the end of his playing days.
David Silva also showed that he would not be out of place in the opposition’s streamlined side, with some deft touches, delightful passes and vision on show by the ex-Valencia playmaker. The Spain international missed Agüero to link up with, and was unlucky not to score as Víctor Valdés made a smart save to deny him in the second-half.
Although other sides will be touted as potential European champions this year, Barcelona have shown with this performance that they will be very much in the running. Although Lionel Messi is their star, the strength of the collective was the most impressive thing about their win in Manchester.