Second Round (First Leg)
Manchester City 1
Aguero (69) -Clichy Sent Off (73)
Suarez (16, 30) -Messi Missed Pen (90+3)
Luis Suarez picked up where he left off in England as his brace secured a pivotal first leg lead for Barcelona at the Etihad. The former Liverpool man struck twice inside the opening thirty minutes on his first return to the country that he dominated in terms of goals and accolades last season, before Sergio Aguero grabbed Manchester City a life line in the second half. Gael Clichy was sent off late on for the hosts and Lionel Messi missed a last-gasp penalty as City fell to defeat.
These two were meeting at this stage for a second successive season after the Spanish side ran out 4-1 winners on aggregate last year. Most of the damage was done at the Etihad as a sturdy performance was ripped apart by one pivotal moment -Martin Demichelis’ foul on Lionel Messi that brought with it a penalty and a straight red card. The spot kick was subsequently scored and the Catalans went on to secure a crucial 2-0 victory that all but assured their route into the Quarter-finals.
Twelve months on, Pellegrini’s men were looking to exact revenge for that result although the absence of a banned Yaya Toure would make that task a little harder. One major positive to the City line-up was a start for top goal scorer Sergio Aguero, who missed the reverse fixture last season due to injury. Bosnian striker Edin Dzeko was chosen ahead of new signing Wilfried Bony to partner the diminutive hit-man up front as the hosts began in an attack minded 4-4-2.
But the size of their task was apparent by a quick glance at the visitors team sheet with the terrifying threesome of Brazilian poster boy Neymar, £75 million Luis Suarez and the four-time Balon D’Or winner Lionel Messi. There was also the small matter of World Cup winners Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique and Busquets behind them as Barca began with a full strength side.
Many observers of last season’s fixture eluded to City showing the Catalans too much respect by allowing them to control 68 percent of possession, and although the opening minutes were played in much the same vein, high pressure in the opposition half saw Pablo Zabaleta rob Neymar and feed Aguero. The Argentine was felled just outside the area, but the resulting free-kick was wasted by James Milner.
One of the problems with pushing up so high is space in behind if the ball gets through, and Suarez showed its flaw as he sprung the offside trap to latch onto a long punt up field. The Uruguayan inadvertently played a one-two with Demichelis after failing to pick out Messi, before firing an effort narrowly wide of Joe Hart’s right-hand post.
The former Liverpool striker was looking sharp on a first return to England since his summer move and he wouldn’t waste his next opportunity on sixteen minutes. Messi received a throw-in on the right and swung in a near post cross to Suarez, whose initial flick-on was blocked by Vincent Kompany, but the ball bounced kindly for the Uruguayan to swivel and smash a left-footed shot into the bottom corner from eight yards.
Luis Suarez smashes Barcelona into the lead - Getty Images
It was the away goal that Manchester City dare not concede and the tie began to slowly slip from their grasp as Barca dictated the tempo. Suarez almost had a second when he broke through the back line once more, although Hart was quickly off his line to smother the shot.
There was a brief moment of excitement from the home fans when David Silva and Dzeko combined to win a corner, but the genius of Luis Enrique’s side couldn’t be contained as they took full control of proceedings. Another move of short, precise passes dragged City all over the pitch allowing Messi to drop into the space behind midfield. He picked up Ivan Rakitic’s pass and beautifully shifted past three challenges before finding Jordi Alba in the left-hand channel, with the left-back teasing a low pass across the six yard box for Suarez to divert in off the post on the stretch.
Suarez adds his and Barca’s second - www.theguardian.co.uk
With two away goals now in the bank and the hosts sinking without trace, Barca were unrelenting in their quest to kill off the tie before the return leg. Neymar was denied an instant third when his lob over Hart was kicked away by a covering Zabaleta, Messi came within a whisker of latching onto another wonderful through ball and Dani Alves’ was robbed of a sensational goal as his deft chip bounced off the crossbar.
The half time whistle was a welcome relief for Pellegrini’s side who were struggling to control the away side, but they started the second period with a renewed vigour. A succession of early corners brought with them some openings; Fernando losing control of the ball after it bounced to him in the box, Dzeko heading wide from the penalty spot and Samir Nasri seeing his shot charged down after gaining a yard of space. A golden opportunity never seemed too far around the corner and when it arrived, Dzeko fluffed his lines. Another corner was flicked on by Kompany at the near post and it fell to Dzeko dead centre of goal six yards out, although the Bosnian headed straight at Ter Stegen under no pressure at all.
Despite the miss, City continued to show signs of a revival as Aguero wriggled away from the tenacious Javier Mascherano before curling his 25 yard effort narrowly wide and Demichelis headed comfortably into Ter Stegen’s hands. A brief scramble at the other end almost gifted a third as Messi brought a looping ball under his spell inside the box before his low cross wormed its way out to Iniesta, whose effort was deflected into Harts hands.
But the hosts were still on top and they found their precious lifeline midway through the second half from a familiar source. The move started with Fernandinho’s slide rule pass finding Silva’s run on the edge of the area, with the Spanish magician pulling out a sumptuous back-heel that fell perfectly into the path of the galloping Aguero. The Argentine nipped it away from a lunging tackle and leathered a ferocious right-footed strike into the top corner to set up a grandstand finish.
Aguero gives City a second half lifeline - Reuters
The goal and earlier introduction of Bony helped to give City a wave of momentum in their pursuit of a vital leveller, which suffered a major blow just five minutes later as Gael Clichy’s clumsy tackle on Dani Alves resulted in a second yellow card. Jordi Alba almost took full advantage when he drifted in behind Zabaleta and Messi’s blocked shot needed tipping over by Hart as the match swung back into Barcelona’s favour.
The visitors took the sting out of proceedings whilst still probing for a third goal, which they thought they had when Zabaleta’s tired lunge at Messi resulted in a last-gasp spot kick. Barcelona’s record scorer picked himself up off the deck to take it and showed that he is human after all as Hart guessed correctly to save his effort, before Messi headed the rebound wide. The full time whistle immediately followed and it could prove to be a crucial moment for Pellegrini’s side, as they head to the Nou Camp knowing that they need to score twice to have any chance of progressing into the Quarter finals.
Player Ratings (Out of 10)
Man City: Hart (7), Zabaleta (6), Kompany (6), Demichelis (6), Clichy (5), Fernando (5), Milner (6), Nasri (5), Silva (6), Aguero (8), Dzeko (6) Subs: Fernandinho (6), Bony (6), Sagna (5)
Barcelona: Ter Stegen (7), Alves (7), Mascherano (6), Pique (6), Alba (7), Busquets (7), Rakitic (8), Iniesta (7), Suarez (9), Neymar (7), Messi (7) Subs: Mathieu (6), Adriano (5), Pedro (5)
Man of the match: Luis Suarez (Barcelona)
How good are Barcelona? They played City off the park for almost the entirety of the first period, popping the ball around at will. With such a wealth of possession and a front three that should only be found on FIFA 15’s Ultimate Team, it was no surprise that the visitors took full control. Luis Suarez was in inspired form and fully deserved his two goals, the second of which is a fantastic team goal that is Barca’s trademark.
The second half revival from City made the match a spectacle after Luis Enrique’s side threatened to run riot. Part of their problem was a lack of service to Sergio Aguero and Co. but once they increased the tempo, the Argentine came alive. David Silva’s backheel to set up Aguero’s goal was on of the best assists you are likely to see and the finish did the pass justice.
But ultimately, City couldn’t afford to lose this match ahead of the return in Spain and they will have to work a miracle to overturn the deficit and reach the Quarter finals.