Barcelona 2 Manchester City 1 match report: Lionel Messi and Dani Alves on target as Pablo Zabaleta sees red and City exit Champions League

Like Arsenal the previous evening, City fail to overturn a two-goal deficit against superior opposition

nou camp

It was the ultimate form of punishment for Manuel Pellegrini that he should have seen from the stands, in full perspective, the dreadful size of the task he faces in accomplishing the feat of creating a football team in Barcelona’s image.

He seemed to shield his eyes from the pitch in the seconds after Lionel Messi – a player who made a whole heap of nonsense last night out of all the talk of his diminishing influence – had exposed with the decisive first goal the folly of Manchester City’s failure to build a defence to match the attacking dimension.

But this was a game which revealed a gulf all over the pitch and asks questions about how far Pellegrini has actually taken City, despite the initial evidence that he had created something quite brilliant.

The night ended with two goals in the last two minutes and high controversy – Pablo Zabaleta was dismissed for dissent directed at the referee, who refused City a borderline penalty on a night which damaged the name of French officials as much as the first leg did for the Swedes.

But nothing should obscure a gulf in class epitomised by Messi, whose 67th Champions League goal, scored in the 67th minute, takes him only four short of Raul’s record.

There was, of course, a measure of disbelief among those with longer memories that they were really here. It was 15 years ago today that City lost 2-1 at Maine Road against Oldham in the Third Division. They have travelled a very long way and there was some circumspection and deference about the City starting line-up, in which James Milner added some muscularity on the left side to help Aleksandar Kolarov cope with Neymar.

 

That device barely made an impression. The observation conjured by Zabaleta in Spain’s El Pais daily paper was that rugby-tackling Messi was a solution to apply le frenas (the brake) to the Catalans, but that an army of others would still pick up the threat from where he lay.

That’s how it was when City went about their work. So much for “high tension” as that paper put it on Wednesday morning. Messi set about Joleon Lescott in a way that made you fear for his state of mind, as the home side’s confident, clinical play reduced Vincent Kompany’s confident talk of how “nothing is better than chasing a lost cause” to what it was: just words.

Three of City’s players – Fernandinho, Zabaleta and Kolarov – found themselves booked and walking a tightrope before even half an hour had been played. And though the crowd had its usual influence on officialdom, City were given a huge stoke of fortune when Lescott planted a mistimed right foot into the Argentine’s legs as he barrelled around the fringe of City’s area. The only surprise was that Barcelona did not demand the penalty they were due far more effusively.

Pablo Zabaleta is shown a red a card by referee Stephane Lannoy (GETTY) Pablo Zabaleta is shown a red a card by referee Stephane Lannoy (GETTY) It was not the only rescue provided by the French referee Stéphane Lannoy. An overlapping Jordi Alba was wrongly judged to be offside when he received Cesc Fabregas’s rolled pass and levelled it for Neymar to tap in a goal which should certainly have counted. It was Tita Martino’s players finding the new gear which City had needed to salvage the 2-0 aggregate that weighed against them.

Lescott had the occasional moment against Messi – the two clean challenges will probably be forgotten amid the collective memory of carnage today – but the Argentine cut the Englishman away, just as Neymar did Kolarov. And City’s need to keep shipping water meant they could barely attend to the small matter of scoring two goals – or even the breakthrough strike they so badly needed.

Sergio Aguero was deeply isolated and only David Silva managed to deliver to the Catalans a hint of what they had dealt to City. A divine flick with the back of his heel to divert Yaya Touré’s clipped pass into Samir Nasri’s line of fire was City’s stand-out moment of the first half.

Dani Alves (right) celebrates his late goal for Barcelona (GETTY) Dani Alves (right) celebrates his late goal for Barcelona (GETTY) It was a lack of pace which also hindered the visiting team. The pace of Jesus Navas feeding Alvaro Negredo would have been a more potent threat than City’s narrow game here, in which Silva was seeking to run the ball through Barcelona. The suspended Pellegrini, tucked in next to sporting director Txiki Begiristain as this grim spectacle unfolded, did not hesitate to act at the interval, bringing on Edin Dzeko in the second half for an Aguero whose contribution had been next to nothing.

The Bosnian’s impact was instantaneous. He shaped a header from a Kolarov cross to force a very sharp save from Victor Valdes, and Zabaleta’s skewed shot from space on the right-hand side of the area, after another Kolarov cross had been tamely cleared, finally created some of the palpitations City had been looking to establish.

But that hope was pitifully short-lived because Messi had never drifted away. He continued to pick away at the fabric of Lescott – cutting back past him and leaving him chasing his shadow across the area before placing a left-foot shot against the base of Joe Hart’s right post. Then came the strike which confirmed the night’s increasingly inevitable outcome. Fabregas simply ran the ball between Lescott’s legs six minutes past the hour and watched Messi collect and place it in the net.

Zabaleta’s dimissal came amid his fury that Gerard Pique’s clumsy penalty box challenge on Dzeko had gone unpunished – a marginal call – though City did equalise when Dzeko headed down Milner’s corner to Kompany – just onside – as he steered it in. Lescott, standing beside him and offside, did not affect the phase of play.

There was still time for Xavi, Iniesta and Alexis Sanchez to lace passes which set up Dani Alves’s sweeping, winning goal. For Alves, remonstrating with the supporters who have questioned his ability, the goal was an act of vindication. For Pellegrini, it was a final, punishing assertion of the long road that lies ahead.

Read more: Comment - English clubs must beat Spanish in transfer market
Barcelona 2 Manchester City 1 as it happened
Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?