MAN CITY 0, BARCELONA 2
Lionel Messi and Daniel Alves have left Manchester City confronted by a mountainous task if they are to win through to the quarter finals of the Champions League.
The South American pair scored at the Etihad Stadium to give Barcelona a massive advantage after the opening leg of their last-16 tie.
Messi’s second-half penalty, his 66th goal in the Champions League as he draws ever close to Raul’s record of 71, and Alves’ late strike means City will have win the return at the Nou Camp by a sizeable margin.
It was a sobering night for City who are still some way off matching Europe’s elite on the evidence of their display against the Catalans.
City manager Manuel Pellegrini was critical of referee Jonas Eriksson’s handling of the game saying he wasn’t “impartial” to both sides and it was a mistake to appoint a match official from a footballing minnow like Sweden.
Pellegrini accused Eriksson for putting a wrong right having previously made a serious mistake against Barcelona in a previous game against AC Milan in 2012.
He was unhappy with the penalty saying Martin Demichelis committed the offence outside the box, but moments before Jesus Navas was fouled, an offence which was not given.
Pellegrini said: “From the beginning the referee was not impartial to both teams. It was not a penalty as the offence was outside the box.
“To play 40 minutes with one player less against a team like Barcelona is very difficult.”
Pellegrini added that it was a very close game and, the penalty aside, Barcelona didn’t have many chances to score.
City’s manager was pleased with his side’s performance saying they had two or three opportunities to score.
Despite maintaining that City would not change their playing style, Pellegrini did precisely that abandoning his normal 4-4-2 system.
There was no place for either Edin Dzeko or Stevan Jovetic as City’s manager beefed up his midfield with David Silva providing the attacking impetus behind lone front man Alvaro Negredo.
Barcelona seized the early initiative playing the game at their slow tempo as City struggled to win possession.
Indeed, Barcelona had 75-per-cent of the ball in the opening quarter of the game as the Catalans played keep ball.
It was not until the 25th minute that either keeper was extended and then it was City who carved out the first chance of the game.
Vincent Kompany got his head to David Silva’s free kick which caused a goalmouth scramble as keeper Victor Valdes saved the day desperately grabbing the ball on the goalline.
Negredo then fired a 25-yard shot straight at Valdes as City began to gain a toe-hold in the match.
Barcelona’s best spell of the half came when the mercurial Messi shot over and that was quickly followed by a drive from Xavi which forced a fine save from Joe Hart.
City’s night took a turn for the worse early in the second period when Messi, put clean through by a brilliant pass from Andres Iniesta, was brought down by Demichelis who was sent off to add insult to injury.
Messi drove his spot kick straight down the middle as Hart dived to his left, though the replays showed the challenge was made marginally outside the box.
Pellegrini immediately took off Aleksander Kolarov and Jesus Navas as Joleon Lescott and Samir Nasri made their entrance.
Barcelona could have doubled their advantage as Xavi shot over and Daniel Alves fired just wide of the far post.
Ten-man City almost conjured an equaliser when Pablo Zabaleta set up Silva who was denied by a super save from Valdes.
Barcelona’s Gerard Pique, on his return to Manchester, had the ball in the net late on, but his effort was ruled out for offside.
They finally doubled their advantage in the 90th minute when Alves and substitute Neymar exchanged passes before the Brazilian fired low past Hart to end a miserable night.