Barça reached the last eight of the Champions League this evening after a 2-1 victory over Manchester City at Camp Nou completed an overall 4-1 aggregate score. It was always going to be difficult for City after the 0-2 result in the first leg but the visitors had chances to take the lead before Leo Messi finally opened the scoring tonight in the 67th minute. Vincent Kompany grabbed a consolation goal for City in the 89th minute but Dani Alves assured a Barça triumph on the night with an injury time winner.
Tata Martino decided on the same formation as at the Etihad with Andrés Iniesta employed as a left-sided forward, the only change from the first leg being Neymar in place of Alexis on the right. Barça began strongly as though the players wanted to prove something after Saturday’s defeat at Valladolid, and the crowd was soon getting behind the team when Messi sprinted back to rob Kun Agüero near the Barça area.
Messi was looking particularly keen, perhaps inspired by facing Argentinian team-mates Agüero and Zabaleta or perhaps in need of answering the questions being raised over his work-rate. In the 9th minute he should have won a penalty after Lescott’s lunge but the French referee Stephane Lannoy waved play on. Three minutes later the Argentinian made a splendid burst into the area but despite keeping the ball in play after going past City keeper Joe Hart, he ran out of space as he tried to squeeze the ball in.
However, it was by no means all Barça. City looked to get forward quickly through James Milner on the left while David Silva also had his moments. The first chance for the visitors came in the 17th minute when Milner swung a leg at Kolarov’s low cross but he failed to get good contact and sent the ball well wide. Then just a minute later Neymar had the ball in City’s net only for the goal to be incorrectly ruled out for an inexistent offside called against Jordi Alba.
The game continued at a high tempo but the chances began to dry up while the foul count went up. Fernandinho had already been booked for an early foul on Sergio Busquets and ref also brandished yellow cards at Kolarov for a foul on Neymar and Zabaleta for a waist-high swing that caught Iniesta. Soon after Iniesta was in the wars again after a crunching tackle from Zabaleta gave him a nasty-looking jolt on the knee. City played on as Iniesta lay on the deck and after a patient build-up Silva had City’s best chance so far but sent his 20-yard shot well over.
Camp Nou breathed a sigh of relief when Iniesta recovered after treatment and soon after he chipped a ball forward to Neymar who controlled with his head, taking advantage of Kolarov’s slip to bear down on goal, but the Brazilian fired his shot narrowly wide of the near post.
The first half ended with chances at both ends. First Messi slipped a pass through for Xavi who sliding in could only poke his shot straight at Hart. Then, Toure Yaya, on his return to Camp Nou, chipped in a splendid ball into the area for Silva who showed his class to flick the ball back for Nasri who fired his shot straight at Valdés. Messi was not to be outdone, showing brilliant footwork to open space for Neymar on the left of the area, Hart stormed out of his goal and Neymar jinked inside and shot for goal only to be thwarted by Fernandinho’s header off the line. Then just before the break Fabregas received the ball inside the area on the left but his low cross was intercepted by Kolarov before Piqué could pounce.
Dzeko replaced the disappointing Agüero at half-time and just a couple of minutes into the second half after a disputed ball in the Barça area the ball ran to the lanky striker but Valdés was well behind his low shot. Barça began to show a little sloppiness and City started to push further forward. Barça dropped back, as we have seen previously under Martino, and looked for the counter attack. Then in the 51st minute Lescott gave a poor pass to Neymar who sent Messi scuttling down the right, Lescott regained his position but Messi brilliantly cut inside him, the Argentinian set his sights but there was no golazo as his low drive bounced out off the far post.
Relying on the counter-attack, however, was a dangerous game to play against a team with City’s qualities. A minute after Messi’s post, Neymar lost the ball, leading to a City attack down the left, Kolarov crossed and Dzeko rose to send a powerful header towards the top corner only to be denied by a breathtaking save from Valdés. City had another chance two minutes later after another cross the left deflected off Piqué into Zabaleta’s path but the City right-back sent his shot inches wide.
At this point of the game City looked in with a real chance if only they could score the first goal. Messi kept the visitors’ defence occupied with the occasional break but in this period the ball was more often than not in the Barça half and Piqué had to react quickly after Mascherano nearly gifted a chance to Fernandinho.
City’s dominant spell lasted for around fifteen minutes but little by little, thanks mainly to the hard work from both full-backs and the intelligent play of Iniesta, Barça began to regain control. The goal finally came when Fabregas tried to slip a pass through for Messi, Lescott got in the way but also got in a muddle as the ball bounced off both his legs before running through to Messi who pounced with a delightful flick past Hart with the outside of his left boot.
Xavi might have made it 2-0 soon after, but Hart made a full-stretch save to keep out his 20-yard drive. Now needing three goals City brought on Negredo and Navas but the miracle never looked likely. Any chance the English team had was blown when the referee failed to see Piqué’s clumsy challenge on Dzeko in the 78th minute. It should have been a penalty and to make things worse for City Zabaleta received a second yellow card for his protest.
Martino introduced the fresh legs of Alexis and then later Sergi Roberto as Barça tried to play out time. However, in the 89th minute, as many believed was inevitable at some point in the tie, City scored from a corner. Dzeko rose above everybody to head the ball down and Sergi Roberto played Kompany onside and the Belgian defender stabbed the ball in from four yards. The last laugh was for Barça. Sergi Roberto and Alexis combined to send Iniesta into the area, Hart came out and when Iniesta couldn’t find a shooting angle he pulled the ball back to Alves for the Brazilian to add to the injury-time goal he scored in the first leg.
Following the horrible show against Valladolid tonight’s performance was a vast improvement. There was a renewed intensity and the players again proved that when they put their minds to it they can still play some great football. However, there were still some lapses and the first 15 minutes of the second half were worrying. Whether we intended to sit back or whether it was forced on us it was not a common sight to see an away side have so much possession in our half at Camp Nou. Unfortunately, another negative side was again the form of Neymar. He was better than at Valladolid and showed a lot more involvement but his tricks sadly all seemed to come to nothing. I’d like confirmation that he was again disappointing as I accept I may have watched him more critically after calling for him to be benched today. I still find it staggering that after his run of form he was preferred over Pedro and Alexis for this game.
City gave a better showing than in the first leg and they will undoubtedly remorse over some refereeing decisions over the two games. However, there were two important decisions early in tonight’s game that went their way and ultimately they lost the tie by being too conservative at the Etihad and through the mistakes of Demichelis and Lescott. City were of course without Matija Nastasic for both games but considering the money they have spent and the size of their squad you’d think they would have been able to find better cover. It might be a bit off the subject of tonight’s game but this is just another indication of the difficulty we are going to face in signing a good central defender this summer.
Barça: Valdés 7.5; Alves 7.5, Piqué 6.5, Mascherano 7, Alba 7.5; Xavi 6.5, Busquets 6.5, Fabregas 6.5 (Sergi Roberto m86, 6); Neymar 5.5 (Alexis m80, 6.5), Messi 8, Iniesta 7.5.
Man City: Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov; Touré, Fernandinho; Nasri (Navas m74), Silva (Negredo m72), Milner; Agüero (Dzeko h/t).
Goals: m67 Messi 1-0, m89 Kompany 1-1, m91 Alves 2-1.
Yellow cards: m9 Fernandinho, m23 Kolarov, m30 Zabaleta, m54 Fabregas, m73 Kompany, m78 Zabaleta = red.