Lionel Messi and Dani Alves unravel 10-man City
City heading out of Champions League as Barcelona punish Martin Demichelis red card
Martin Demichelis brings down Lionel Messi to concede a penalty and earn a red card. Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Manchester City 0 Barcelona 2
The unfortunate truth for Manchester City is that in a straight contest Lionel Messi versus Martin Demichelis is always going to be a one-sided affair. Manuel Pellegrini’s team had generally been coping until the moment when Messi picked up speed to go past Demichelis and, after that, everything quickly unravelled.
A team with genuine Champions League aspirations cannot have a weak link in the centre of their defence and there is a growing portfolio of evidence that Demichelis is that man. As soon as the referee, Jonas Eriksson, pointed to the penalty spot, a red card was inevitable. The game was eight minutes into the second half and, though the 10 men gave everything, City’s night become an even more harrowing ordeal when Dani Alves exchanged passes with the substitute Neymar and slipped the ball through Joe Hart’s legs.
City had showed real togetherness in the closing stages and at 1-0 they could even reflect on a couple of chances to drag themselves back into the tie. Instead, the second leg at Camp Nou on March 12th will begin with Barca in a position of great strength and City requiring a remarkable feat of escapology.
It certainly did not take long before Pellegrini’s lecture about wearing out their opponents by making them chase the ball started to look like wishful thinking. A team with Barca’s refinement do not generally suffer that way. A pattern of authority was quickly established.
One side cherished the ball as though it were made of bone china. The other chased and marked and harried and, when it was their turn on the ball, they discovered their opponents have a wonderful knack of getting it back.
That, in turn, made City rush their football during the opening exchanges, almost as if they knew it might be a while before they had another go. As cultured as it was, however, Barcelona’s early control tended not to get much further than the edge of the opposition penalty area.
Messi, dropping back into the centre-circle, did not have too many gaps to aim for in a heavily congested midfield. With Messi, there is always the threat that he will suddenly explode into life.
Yet Pellegrini’s tactic of flooding the centre was a wise strategy. Messi waited half an hour before his first chance at goal and the opening period was nearing its conclusion when he picked up any real speed for the first time. A shudder of apprehension reverberated around the home stands as Messi got away from Yaya Toure, but the four-time Ballon d’Or winner did not get much further – in keeping with much of Barcelona’s attacking football at that stage.
City had taken a while to shake their heads clear but their ability to change the speed of the game, once they had advanced over the halfway line, meant that midway through the first half they began to trouble their opponents.
Alvaro Negredo could not clip a right-foot effort on target from a difficult angle, after David Silva’s pass had sent him running, diagonally, past Gerard Pique and then round the goalkeeper Victor Valdes. Silva’s free-kick into the penalty area then created all sorts of chaos before the referee spared Barcelona by deciding there had been a foul on Valdes.
These were encouraging moments for Pellegrini’s team. They had looked anxious at first, adjusting to a different kind of challenge and too often guilty of carelessness. Demichelis waved an apologetic hand twice inside the opening quarter after returning the ball to City’s opponents.
For the first 53 minutes, Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez had played every pass in the book, apart from the killer one. Iniesta’s through ball for Messi changed everything and Demichelis was beaten by the sudden turn of pace. As Messi hared away, Demichelis slid in from behind, missing the ball and bringing down his opponent.
City have a legitimate complaint that the foul actually took place marginally outside the penalty area, but Messi’s momentum meant he landed in a place that convinced Eriksson to point to the spot. Messi calmly stroked the ball into the place that Hart, diving to his left, had vacated.
After that, City were always going to be vulnerable. Silva’s volley brought a fine save from Valdes and Edin Dzeko created problems when he replaced Negredo. But Barca, with an extra man, are a formidable opponent and the goal from Alves was a killer blow.
Man City: Hart,Zabaleta,Kompany,Demichelis,Clichy, Jesus Navas (Nasri 57),Fernandinho,Toure,Kolarov (Lescott 57), Silva,Negredo (Dzeko 74). Sent Off: Demichelis (53). Booked: Negredo,Kolarov.
Barcelona: Valdes,Dani Alves,Pique,Mascherano,Jordi Alba,Xavi, Busquets,Fabregas (Sergi Roberto 86),Alexis (Neymar 73),Messi, Iniesta. Booked: Dani Alves,Mascherano.
Referee: Jonas Eriksson (Sweden).