Ivan Rakitic’s first half goal earned a 1-0 victory over Manchester City on the night and a 3-1 aggregate win overall which puts Barça in the Champions League quarter-finals for the eighth successive season. The possible rivals in Friday’s draw are Bayern Munich, Juventus, Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid, Monaco, Porto and Paris Saint Germain.
It was an open game, ridiculously at times, but the score was kept down by an astonishing display in the second half by City keeper Joe Hart who made a string of saves to deny Messi, Suárez, Alba and more than anyone Neymar. Marc-Andre Ter Stegen was also a protagonist saving Kun Aguero’s penalty which would have given City a real chance with fifteen minutes remaining.
However, despite City’s opportunities it would have been very unjust had the English team qualified. Like the first leg at the Etihad Barça had the better of the exchanges and as early as the sixth minute Alves robbed Kompany on the edge of the City area and Neymar saw his shot hit the inside of the post before rolling across the goal and out of play past the other post. It wasn’t long after when Messi played a one-two with Iniesta but his angled shot from the left was blocked by Hart with his legs.
City’s best early chance came when Toure broke through on the right but Alves impeded Milner sufficiently to deny him a shot. Ter Stegen wasn’t troubled until the 18th minute when he got comfortable behind Kolarov’s 25-yard drive. However, Barça were looking very focused and City had little answer to the quick possession play other than to resort to fouls which saw Fernandinho, Kolarov, Silva and Nasri all booked.
Messi fired a couple of free-kicks narrowly over but it was his team play that stood out in a wonderful 25-minute spell before half-time. One splendid run which included a nutmeg on Fernandinho while holding off Milner brought a purr of approval from Camp Nou. However, it was the nutmeg which left the lunging Milner on his backside that brought the biggest roar from the crowd and was probably worth the admission money on its own. Between these two moments of class the Argentinian set up Rakitic for the goal after an excellent break out of defence from Jordi Alba. Alba found Messi who set off down the right before checking and sending his now-very-familiar diagonal pass to the left where instead of Alba or Neymar, it was Rakitic who arrived in acres of space and after chesting the ball down he clipped it over the advancing Hart and in.
Near the end of the first half Messi forced the ball through to Neymar but instead of shooting the Brazilian crossed low and a defender put a foot in and sent the ball just wide of the post for a corner. Soon after, Neymar slipped a pass through for Suárez who flicked the ball past Hart only to see in bobble agonizingly against the post.
City should have been out of it but at half-time they were still just two goals from forcing extra-time and they came out for the second half with a nothing-to-lose attitude with Navas replacing Nasri. However, the traffic continued to be more towards Hart’s goal with Iniesta, Alba and Messi all denied by the City keeper in the first five minutes after the restart.
Barça would continue to create chances throughout the second half but as the score remained at 1-0 the importance of not conceding a goal increased. Ter Stegen caused a scare when he went dribbling near the corner flag only to lose the ball to Aguero but fortunately for the Barça keeper the City striker’s cross/shot was intercepted by the omnipresent Piqué. There was then another heart-stopping moment for Camp Nou after Navas played a one-two to break into the area and send in a cross which caused a monumental scramble before Mathieu cleared.
Neymar failed to convert two decent chances with Hart making two more good saves and Barça might have paid for the failure to add more goals when Piqué was adjudged to have brought down Aguero in the 77th minute. The Italian referee Gianluca Rocchi pointed to the spot and Ter Stegen made up for his earlier lapse by diving to his right to parry Aguero’s penalty and Alves cleared to prevent a possible rebound.
City’s final chance came from a weak header from Kompany straight at Ter Stegen. The fact that this was City’s only header on goal all night was a sign of how well the defence, and especially Piqué, dealt with City’s aerial threat. At the other end there were further chances for Barça to add to the score but Hart got in the way of everything to keep Messi, Suárez and Neymar off the scoresheet.
For the number of chances tonight the game could easily have finished 5-2 or with an even bigger score in Barça’s favour. It would be easy to criticise our finishing but it would be fairer to give the credit to Hart who had an incredible night which he should long remember despite ending on the losing side. The most negative point for Barça was the late booking for Dani Alves which means he will be suspended for the first leg of the quarter-final.
Barça: Ter Stegen 7; Alves 6.5 (Adriano m91, –), Piqué 8, Mathieu 7, Alba 7.5; Rakitic 6.5 (Rafinha m84, –), Mascherano 6.5, Iniesta 6.5; Messi 8.5, Suárez 7, Neymar 6.
Man City: Hart; Sagna, Kompany, Demichelis, Kolarov; Toure (Bony m72), Fernandinho; Nasri (Navas h/t), Silva, Milner (Lampard m87); Aguero.
Goal: m31 Rakitic 1-0.
Yellow cards: m15 Fernandinho, m20 Kolarov, m27 Silva, m35 Nasri m80 Alves, m82 Demichelis