Barcelona vs Manchester City match report: Lionel Messi and Co outclass Manuel Pellegrini's men as final English team fall

Barcelona 1 Manchester City 0 (agg: 3-1)

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, wonder whether it is worth staying around for what still feels like a very long journey indeed.

And 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 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 on 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 Vincent Kompany and Martin Demichelis in the first minute or two which suggested some kind of City intent.

But the night of 1,000 cuts began very, 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.

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Lionel Messi was in absolutely superb form

 By the half hour, when Manuel Pellegrini was beckoning his players forward in a way which implied they might actually be able to dictate where they ran, four of his traumatised team had been booked. It dawned on you in that moment how futile the manager’s suggestion that they must not again be reduced to ten men had actually been.

The fourth of those bookings was a metaphor for what was happening. Samir Nasri simply flung out his leg in an aleyard kick at Neymar as the Brazilian evaporated out of an attempted tackle and eased ahead of him. Nasri suffered the ignominy of a half-time substitution: not for the first time unable to deal with a genuine football force.

 Silva was a little more unfortunate, landing some connection on the ball Messi was easing towards the penalty area, yet felling him as the momentum of his tackle carried him into the Argentinian.

But the central space offered up to the galaxy of talents sent a shiver through City every time the home side moved forward. Andres Iniesta didn’t tell us the half of it when he said on Tuesday that City would be make them “suffer, so they are the chasing the ball.” There was just no-one in the middle – no discipline or rigour – to stem the tide.

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Joe Hart produced one of the best performances in living memory

 It was the night of the nutmeg, too: Fernandinho suffering the indignity twice, most bluntly by a Messi manoeuvre at which the Nou Camp gasped, and then James Milner, left with his legs apart as the little Argentinian’s flick had sent the ball through them.

But no-one had it worse in the first 45 minutes than Bacary Sagna, a player utterly out of his depth as he ran inside, in blind pursuit of Barcelona’s diagonal runs, only to leave the back door wide open for Neymar, lurking with menace behind him. 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 Koloarav 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 and lifted it assuredly over Hart’s head into the net.

 There were very occasional glints of daylight for City, such as when Silva – one of the few who demonstrated a right to be on this field, in this company – put Yaya Touré into the right hand side of the area, to cross for the arriving Milner, who was deterred by Daniel Alves’s sliding tackle.

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Sergio Aguero missed a penalty that could've given City a chance

But you can 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 the misery of it all for Pellegrini was to see his players keep the ball so briefly before the carousel was set off once again.

The introduction of Jesus Navas for Nasri was of marginal significance, as Hart was forced into two more saves within three minutes of the time City had to regroup in the dressing room. He actually supplied City’s best scoring chance, with a cross which was overcut behind the City front line before it fell to Kolarov, whose strike hit Touré. The challenge remained how to find sandbags for the sinking centre. Touré was wisely shipped out of there as soon as the second half began, and moved forward. He had been the crux of the problem of City being overrun and Milner dropped into his place.  There was no eye contact for the manager as Touré was substituted, midway through the second period. He did not serve the Chilean well.

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Manuel Pellegrini is now under immense pressure

 The midfield did tighten, even though Hart was called upon a half dozen more times to save in the second half, and briefly – against all rationale – there was the fleeting prospect of a City breakthrough. Aguero, almost  entirely invisible, was marginally clipped by Gerard Pique in the box but watched Marc-Andrew ter Stegen leap to his right to save his penalty. Hart’s last breathtaking save, palming away from Neymar in injury time, prompted Suarez to offer him a handshake before the corner was taken. He left the field last, buoyed by what he had achieved. His teammates’ sentiments will be different.

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