Barcelona 1 Man City 0 (Barcelona win 3-1 on agg): Lionel Messi starred once more as Barcelona progressed to the Champions League quarter-finals for a ninth consecutive season thanks to a 1-0 last 16 second leg victory over Manchester City at the Camp Nou last night.
The Catalan side went into the game 2-1 up from last month’s first leg in Manchester and were in control from the off here, with the reigning English champions having no answer to the class of Messi, and the visitors were more than flattered by the final aggregate score of just 3-1.
Ivan Rakitic scored the only goal just past the half hour, from a sumptuous Messi assist, and in truth it could easily have been 4-0 by the break.
City had their spells of pressure after the break, with Sergio Aguero seeing a second half penalty saved, but they were indebted to a string of fine late saves from goalkeeper Joe Hart to keep the score down.
“We’ve gone out to a magnificent side,” Hart said. “But that’s the second time in two years, which is disappointing for us.
“They’re going to get a lot of plaudits for how they play, they’ve got fantastic players, but we had a big chance, we hung on in there and we had a big chance but unfortunately we couldn’t take it.”
Blaugrana coach Luis Enrique had named his expected line-up, with Javier Mascherano in midfield for the injured Sergio Busquets. And the in-form hosts looked comfortable from the start, with Messi, Neymar and Suarez regularly finding space, and Vincent Kompany and City’s back four regularly given the runaround.
Midfielder Ivan Rakitic opened the scoring just after the half hour. Rakitic both began and finished a lightning break, winning the ball near his own box and then haring forward. The Croatian’s run was picked out by a superb Messi pass, and with the defence nowhere, Rakitic was able to control on his chest and lift the ball over Hart to the net.
With City’s midfield and defence being lead a merry dance by faster, cleverer opponents, Aleksander Kolarov, Fernandinho, David Silva and Samir Nasri were all in the book by half-time. Three of the four yellows were for fouls on Messi, who was thrilling the crowd, including the watching Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola, with a selection of tricks and nutmegs. Nasri’s foul was the worst, the Frenchman lucky to escape a red card for a hack at Neymar’s legs.
1-0 at half-time was generous for City, who had lucky escapes when Neymar and Suarez both hit the woodwork when well placed, while Messi guided two 20-yard free kicks just over the crossbar with Hart beaten. The Barca front three also regularly generously tried to tee each other up instead of going for goal themselves, almost as if this was too easy for them.
City boss Manuel Pellegrini had sprung a few surprises with his selection, going with just Sergio Aguero in attack, and fielding an attacking midfield including James Milner and Yaya Toure back at his former club. One short spell of pressure midway through the first period saw Milner have a half chance when the ball broke to him inside the six yard box, but Dani Alves got back well to block.
Into the second half and Iniesta, Rakitic and Alba [from another gorgeous Messi pass] all went close. The home side then appeared to sit back, perhaps already thinking of Sunday’s La Liga clasico at home to Real Madrid, and City had a few half-chances.
Goalkeeper Marc Andre Ter Stegen tried to dribble past Aguero and lost the ball, but Gerard Pique saved his blushes, heading clear the City attacker’s shot from a tight angle. The roles were reversed soon afterwards when the German keeper superbly saved Aguero’s penalty, after Pique was harshly adjudged to have upended Navas in the box.
Hart saved twice from Messi and four separate times from Neymar.
In the end, this was a second consecutive exit to Barca at this point for Pellegrini’s side, and even with around €1 billion invested, there was little sign of any progress in the last 12 months. City have yet to make the last eight of European football’s top competition, and join fellow Premier League sides Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea on the outside looking in.
Barca go into tomorrow’s draw for the last eight and head into Sunday’s clasico back at the Camp Nou, playing as well as they have done in years.
BARCELONA: 1 ter Stegen, Dani Alves (Adriano 90), Pique, Mathieu, Jordi Alba, Rakitic (Rafinha 84), Mascherano, Iniesta, Messi, Suarez, Neymar.
MAN CITY: Hart, Sagna, Kompany, Demichelis, Kolarov, Nasri (Jesus Navas 46), Toure (Bony 72), Fernandinho, Milner (Lampard 87), Silva, Aguero. Ref: Gianluca Rocchi (Firenze).
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