Barcelona 2-1 Manchester City (4-1 agg) - Barca defy critics to progress
Barcelona were supposedly embroiled in a crisis. Following two defeats in three games, suggestions of Tata Martino resigning in the summer surfaced amongst the theory that the Blaugrana were in swift demise, ever since Pep Guardiola's departure.
All were slightly exaggerated. Regardless of their recent travails, they were written off prematurely. Barca yet remain a formidable force.
In full view of his national manager, Lionel Messi was outstanding as his delightful feet installed smiles in the faces of the ardent Camp Nou support, which had disappeared on Saturday, vanquished at Valladolid as their side lost vital ground on the Spanish La Liga. The Argentinian's well-taken opener, before goals from Vincent Kompany and Dani Alves capped off an efficient evening as Barca advanced to the quarter-finals of the Champions League. They may not be favourites for the prestigious crown, but they will be arduous to eliminate.
Their excellent display will be over-shadowed by referee Stéphane Lannoy's shocking performance, failing to award both Barca and City stonewall penalties while his assistant wrongly adjudged Neymar to have been offside during the first period. The Frenchman also sent off Pablo Zabaleta for a second bookable offence. Pellegrini's thoughts up in the smart seats of the famed bowl of extravagant football? Only he knows.
Zabaleta was incensed by Lannoy's refusal of an indisputable spot-kick after Pique had fouled Dzeko. He remonstrated with the Frenchman and appeared to make contact, with Lannoy producing his second yellow card.
Pellegrini was serving the first of a two-game European touchline ban, earned thanks to his ill-advised outburst disregarding Swedish football and the questioning referee Jonas Erikkson's integrity. He sat in between Brian Marwood and Txiki Begiristain and hoped for a miracle.
Barca may be a side under intense scrutiny, but the wealth of talent in their ranks is indisputable. Neymar, Messi, Xavi and Iniesta all started.
Sensing the problems Barca could pose, Pellegrini condensed the midfield with Milner alongside Fernandinho, Toure and Silva with Nasri the bridge between midfield and Aguero.
City began promisingly as they looked a genuine threat on the counter-attack. The midfield was a spacious clump of fine green grass, with Fernandinho exploiting the space unchallenged. But his spirited run failed to result in the demanded productivity.
City were living dangerously. Lannoy, omitted from World Cup duty, rightly on this evidence, refused to point to the spot after Joloen Lescott had blatantly tripped Messi before Neymar was incorrectly ruled offside and Kompany snuffed out Catalan danger.
The Belgian was excellent throughout the evening, mopping up on numerous occasions and leading by example.
Milner's sidefooted effort wide evoked raptures of hope from the travelling City faithful. Up in the Gods, they watched their side go to lengths to stifle this superb Barca team ; Fernandinho on Xavi, Kolarov on Neymar and Zabaleta on Iniesta, the City trio accumulating bookings. Kolarov and Zabaleta will miss City's return to the Champions League next year, barring an extraordinary miracle during the last weeks of this absorbing Premier League season. With two of its respected representatives eliminated on successive nights, doubts will grow over the league's quality.
Joleon Lescott was benefiting from Martin Demichelis's suspension, with the England defender admitting his objective to attract future suitors as he prepares to depart Manchester in the summer. A great tackle on Neymar to thwart his hazardous advancement succeeded accomplished challenges conducted beforehand. Roy Hodgson's presence at the Camp Nou should also be noted.
Martino possessed the figure of a man under scrutiny as he, along with the Blaugrana supporters, contested each and every decision.
Neymar failed to capitalize on Kolarov's slip before Hart parried away Xavi's sweetly-struck effort. Barca were moving through the gears.
But City struck back, in typical Barcelona fashion. Yaya Toure, who spent three years in Catalunia, superbly dinked the ball to Silva whose excellent back-heel sat up brilliantly for Nasri, but his subsequent strike was directed too close to Valdes.
Pellegrini withdrew Aguero at the break and ushered on Edin Dzeko. The Argentinian did not seem right, failing to touch the ball within the Barca box.
His replacement was immediately involved, his well-hit effort easily thwarted by Valdes. With the Spaniard set to depart the Camp Nou in the summer, it will be laborious to safely fill his experienced gloves.
Five minutes into the second period, the mesmeric Messi darted past Lescott before his effort kissed the post and City scrambled to clear. From Hart to Dzeko to Ruben Cousillas on the touchline, City sighed a collective sigh of relief. They were still in the game. And more significantly, the tie.
The opportunities then came City's way. Valdes acrobatically saved Dzeko's wonderful header after the Bosnian had brilliantly leaped above Jordi Alba.
Zabaleta then should have scored. After Pique had made a hash of stifling Milner's cross, the ball fell invitingly to Zabaleta, who volleyed wide of a gaping goal. Those City fans ip in the top tier, clutching their blue balloons, were sensing that they would be summoned for their profligacy, a deadly deed at the Camp Nou. And they duelly were.
Messi was in the mood. After a exchange of passes between Alves and Fabregas, the latter swept the ball into the Argentinian who flicked the ball past the despairing Hart.
Xavi forcing Hart into a good save, Barca were threatening to run riot. But City had nothing to lose as Cousillas introduced Navas and Negredo at the respective expenses of Nasri and Silva. He had unleashed the beast.
Zabaleta departed but City's ambition did not follow him through the tunnel. Pellegrini's men fought on gallantly and were rewarded for their spirited efforts as Kompany tapped home Nasri's corner. Barca appealed for the flag but it was the correct decision from the officials after replays showed Kompany to have been played on-side by substitute Sergi Roberto.
Alves thumped home Iniesta's pull-back to secure victory, if their ticket to the quarter-finals of the Champions League was already not.
Related Manchester City News