Manchester City v Barcelona - comment: No English club has been better equipped to beat Barca first time than City

If you aspire to be the best you must do it at some point. Yet City have nothing to fear

They were at it again, on Saturday night, laying waste to an opponent with the kind of brilliant indulgence that we have come to expect of the modern Barcelona. For much of the game Rayo Vallecano played the role of the archetypal cartoon victim, held by the lapels and slapped repeatedly around the chops. They were as good as bystanders at their own destruction.

A 6-0 victory for Barcelona took them up to first place in La Liga, ahead of Atletico Madrid on goal difference. But once again it was all about the execution. The first of two goals from Lionel Messi was his trademark finish, the vertiginous lob that clears the advancing goalkeeper with ease and bounces slowly, tantalisingly, out of the reach of the chasing defenders.

For the spectacular, there was the sixth from Neymar, who rode a challenge in the centre of midfield and after a few strides, as unhurried as a man putting the bins out, arched a shot over the goalkeeper. As with so many of Barça’s great victories against the small fry – Rayo are 19th in the table – the goals looked like a more modest club’s end-of-season highlights DVD.

It was accompanied with the usual avalanche of statistics, most of them around Messi who, now firmly back in the groove after his injury, went to joint-third place in the all-time La Liga goalscoring chart with 228. He went above Alfredo Di Stefano, drew level with Raul Gonzalez, and is hunting down a third Real Madrid hero, Hugo Sanchez, on 234. Before the end of 2014, Messi will surely overhaul the all-time leader Telmo Zarra (251), whose record dates back to a time when they only took pictures of footballers in black and white.

The question for Manchester City, starting on Tuesday night, is how they go about eliminating the phenomenon that is Barcelona from the Champions League over two legs.

The first hurdle with English teams and the modern Barcelona has been the psychological barrier, which is always set high. Manchester United never overcame it for their second Champions League final against them in 2011 and went down meekly at Wembley.

Yet that same season, 2010-2011, Arsenal drew them in the first knockout round and proved they had learnt the lesson from the previous year. Then, in March 2010, there had been the Theo Walcott-inspired comeback at the Emirates for a draw followed by the 4-1 tonking at the Nou Camp.

In 2011, Arsenal won 2-1 at the Emirates and might well have prevailed in the tie were it not for the very soft dismissal of Robin van Persie at the Nou Camp. He was given a second yellow for shooting after the whistle with the score at 1-1.

By then, Arsenal had broken through that inferiority complex Barcelona so often inspire in opponents. Had they drawn them again (and not sold them Cesc Fabregas) it might have been different. As it turned out, Chelsea met Barcelona the following season, in 2011-2012, and prevailed in that great 10-man siege at the Nou Camp for a 2-2 draw and a place in the final. They too had suffered their defeats at the hands of Barça, but had chipped away at it over the years.

What will City make of it? They have Yaya Touré, a Champions League winner at Barcelona, and other big hitters like David Silva and Sergio Aguero, who have faced Barça in the Spanish league. Are they another English club in a process that will take a few seasons, and a couple of disappointments before they can finally overcome Barça? Because no English club has been better equipped to do it at the first time of asking.

Beating Barcelona, or besting them over two legs, is the gold standard baccalaureate for elite European football clubs. If you aspire to be the best you have to do it at some point. Internazionale, Chelsea, Real Madrid (domestically) and Bayern Munich (most emphatically) have all done it. Yet City have nothing to fear. As for goals, this season they have even outscored Barcelona, 117 to 111 in all competitions.

The problem is that, even for a team as experienced as City, no club in the world wields its reputation like Barcelona. Mark Hughes talked about the last Manchester United side he played in as being capable of “beating teams in the tunnel” – and he wasn’t talking about Roy Keane’s vendettas. It was the aura of the familiar red shirts, the badge, the reputations and the satisfaction of catching the occasional opponent, in an unguarded moment, glancing in trepidation at him and his team-mates.

Barcelona have that too, and with some justification. Certainly, Messi is among the greatest ever to have played the game. Yes, Barça play beautiful football and have a wonderful tradition of developing players. And, yes, every club would like to do it that way, were it not that the door to Europe’s elite is bolted shut to all apart from those who have the benefit of the überinvestment of the nouveau owners of City or Paris Saint-Germain.

Because of that investment, this will be portrayed in some quarters as the beauty v the beast, with City the beastly big spenders. They are wide open for anyone who wants to take a shot at their balance sheet but, while Barcelona like to position themselves as a saintly institution, above the petty squabbles of lesser lights, they too are far from perfect.

They are as much a part of the  old-money elite as the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United and Bayern, who benefited from decades of guaranteed Champions League revenue that allowed them to lord it in their domestic leagues. The former Barça president, Sandro Rosell, was forced out over the investigation into how much he paid in the Neymar deal. Not to mention a European Commission investigation into the legislation that makes Barça one of four Spanish clubs with protected not-for-profit status.

It was that status that allowed Barcelona to pursue another former president, Joan Laporta, for losses incurred during his reign. And let’s not get started on the iniquitous television rights deal for Spanish football clubs.

This week is when the Champions League comes into its own, when it becomes the good old European Cup again, knockout ties with everything on the line. There are two marvellous games, pitting City and Arsenal against arguably the two best teams in the competition. Barcelona have a fearsome reputation, and one that some opposing players for English clubs have struggled with in the past. City just need to remind themselves that they are not Rayo Vallecano.

Read more:
Manchester City v Barcelona: 'I've beaten Barelona before and we can do it again now' - Jesus Navas  
Champions League: When Manchester City beat Barcelona – and sailed off with a silver sailing ship
Suggested Topics
News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Extras
indybest
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits