Of Barcelona’s galaxy of stars, it was inevitable Luis Suarez would dazzle the most at the Etihad Stadium, although he could not completely extinguish Manchester City’s Champions League dreams.
It was like Suarez had never been away last night; the wrist-kissing celebration, the insatiable workrate and of course the goals to match.
The cliche, of course, would be to claim the Uruguayan was fired up for his first to England since his transfer from Liverpool.
In truth, though, this was a perfect example of why Barcelona were so desperate to get him and his redefined role.
Suarez had managed just seven goals in his first 22 games as a Barcelona before this match, but that only tells half the story of his adjustment to life in Catalonia.
He has become pivotal to Luis Enrique’s rejuvenation of Barcelona to a side that are more direct than the tiki-taka teams of past.
As impressive as his finishing was Suarez’s ability to act as the lynchpin in the attacking triumvirate with Lionel Messi and Neymar which really caught the eye.
However, despite Suarez’s brace City are not out of this tie after Sergio Aguero’s second-half intervention and a dramatic late penalty save from goalkeeper Joe Hart.
“I hope our second-half efforts are worth something,” Hart said.
“We’ll go there with a great group of fans, belief and a we’ll have a right go.
“We regrouped second half, put (Barcelona) under a lot of pressure, and we were good for a goal and maybe good for a result tonight.”
Manuel Pellegrini’s side will have to be at the best at the Camp Nou, and hope Barca have a rare off day.
Unlikely, but not impossible.
The pace in this contest was frantic; passes exchanged at lightning speed, counter attacks launched with an adroit drop of a shoulder.
Neymar’s quick feet took feet took him past Pablo Zabaleta in the 10th minute and he teed up Suarez only for Martin Demichellis to slide in and block the Uruguayan’s shot.
It was an early warning of what was to come.
While this Barcelona side are famed for goals scored with panache, the nature of their opening goal was somewhat fortuitous.
The directness of Messi’s cross from the left flank almost seemed to catch the City defence by surprise and Suarez’s initial flicked header hit Vincent Kompany’s back and dropped favourably for the Barcelona man.
Almost inevitably the razor-sharp senses of the striker came alive inside the six-yard box and he crisply fired a low shot with his left foot past Joe Hart and into the net.
Not long after the travelling Barcelona fans began to break out into ‘oles’ — less to taunt the majority of the Etihad Stadium, more in expectancy of what was to come. They did not have to wait long.
Enrique’s side, in their fluorescent green strip, ripped open the City defence seemingly at will and predictably doubled their lead on the half-hour mark.
Of all the qualities Suarez showed at Liverpool, it was his fearlessness and brutal determination that so endeared him to the Kop as much as his world-class talent — his second goal was testament to that.
Messi made Zabaleta look like a Sunday morning footballer as he glided past him on the edge of the penalty area before he sent the ball out wide to the overlapping Jordi Alba.
The left-back’s low cross was met by the boot of Suarez, who had held his run back before sliding into a six-yard box which until his arrival had been occupied only by five sky blue shirts.
Barcelona were rampant. The natives slumped back in their seats. Half-time could not come soon enough for Pellegrini despite a late rally which saw Samir Nasri finally force a save out of Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the visiting goal.
A spell of possession from the home side immediately after the interval raised the decibel levels among the home supporters as City came out fighting.
Javier Mascherano produced a last-ditch block to deny Nasri, while from a corner the unmarked Edin Dzeko got on the end of Kompany’s flick only to tamely head the ball into the grateful arms of Ter Stegen.
City needed more.
Barca triumphed 2-0 at the Etihad Stadium en route to a 4-1 aggregate victory over City when the sides met at the same stage of the competition last season.
And City at least managed to give themselves a better chance in the second leg than then as Aguero upped the ante and pulled a goal back.
David Silva’s adept lay-off on the edge of the box was gathered by the stocky Argentine and he emphatically fired home.
However, just when it looked like City had got themselves a foothold in the contest came a setback, as Gael Clichy received a second yellow card for a needless high foot on Dani Alves.
It took the sting out of City’s momentum.
Barcelona continued to get the breaks and were awarded a penalty when Messi collapsed under a challenge from Zabaleta. However, Hart guessed correctly and saved the spot-kick before Messi headed the rebound wide.
Hart punched the air in celebration — he knew it had given City hope. A glimmer of hope, but hope nonetheless.
Substitutes for City: Man City: Fernandinho for Nasr i61), Sagna for Silva 77, Bony for Dzeko 68.
Substitutes for Barcelona: Adriano for Dani Alves 75, Mathiue for Rakitic 71, Pedro for Neymar 80.
Felix Brych (Germany).
Manchester City and Barcelona spent much of the opening period prompting and probing for signs of weakness like two heavyweight boxers feeling their way into a title fight.
Luis Suarez delivered the first telling blow, using all his predatory instincts to produce a quality strike and net his first ever goal at the Etihad Stadium.
Dani Alves and Lionel Messi exchanged quick passes on the wing before the Argentinean arched a cross into the City penalty area.
Vincent Kompany’s attempted headed clearance ricocheted back off the turf and Suarez executed a venomous strike to edge Barcelona 1-0 ahead.
Manuel Pellegrini’s decision to deploy an orthodox 4-4-2 formation left the Premier League club susceptible to the counter-attack and was further undermined once Barcelona carved out a beautiful second goal on the half hour.
The visitors’ patient build-up and increase in tempo was rewarded when a trademark Lionel Messi run that mesmerised four defenders and took the Barca playmaker deep into City territory.
A nonchalant pass released Jordi Alba and the Spanish international pulled the ball back for Luis Suarez to slide in his second of the evening despite the close attention of six defenders in a crowded 18-yard box.
Manchester City were rewarded for an improved second half showing when Sergio Aguero connected with a silky David Silva touch to reduce the deficit only for Gael Clichy to undo all of his side’s good work.
The French international defender received his marching orders following an unnecessary, mistimed challenge on Dani Alves leaving City down to ten men for the concluding 17 minutes.
Glichy’s departure forced the hosts on the back foot, containing rather than attacking Barcelona in the closing stages before Joe Hart’s late penalty save gave Manchester City fans a glimmer of hope heading into the second leg.