FC Barcelona showed the world that they are not fading away anytime soon as El Blaugrana dominated possession, tempo, and defeated Manchester City 2-0 at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday night.
Lionel Messi's penalty kick gave Barça the lead in the 54th minute after Leo was taken down by Martin Demichelis. Despite the foul starting outside the box, FIFA rules state that if a foul starts outside the box and continues inside the penalty area, the referee should call a penalty. Dani Alves sealed the win—potentially this Champions League match-up—with his goal in the 90th minute. Away goals are a thing of beauty. It was a great night in Manchester for FC Barcelona!
Let me give you my take on this game.
Tata's plan worked
Tata Martino knew that Xavi had to play this game to help keep ball possession in Barça's favor. But Tata also knew that he could not sit neither Cesc Fabregas nor Andres Iniesta for this game. Both have been in excellent form of late, and needed to be on the pitch. Tata decided to go with all three mids on the pitch, sitting Pedro and Neymar. This was brilliant, as Barcelona continued to possess the ball, and frustrate City.
Messi was able to move around freely as well as simply stay in the middle of the attack. Fabregas was great all night. Iniesta was a magician, as usual. And Xavi was the calming effect in the midfield, as usual. Did I mention Sergio Busquets did his job as well? I didn't agree with taking off Cesc for Sergi Roberto in the last few minutes, but I can't complain. Tata's tactics slowed down City with ball possession and midfielding dominance—and FC Barcelona has the best mids in the world. Don't be surprised if Tata goes back to this formation for the second leg to finish off City.
Manchester City: False advertising?
Ever since the Champions League draw was announced, all I kept hearing was how Manchester City were going to do this, and do that, and so on. The English media and many other media outlets around the world continued to praise City based on their Premier League wins at home, while disregarding Barça's chances. But as we saw on Tuesday night, Manchester City is a good team, but not a great team. FC Barcelona is still a great team, and deserves to be respected.
I'm not saying I think City is garbage, because they're not. They are a solid squad, and I respect them as a good club. But what I am saying is that City are not yet at the level of Bayern Munich, FC Barcelona, yes, Real Madrid or even Chelsea when it comes to success in European competition. There's nothing wrong with that—not all clubs can be at the level of the clubs mentioned.
The media and many other so-called "experts" advertised Manchester City as a giant of Europe, when they are still only a giant of the Premier League. False advertising, in my opinion. Manchester City and the people that crowned them as favorites in this tie were humbled on Tuesday night.
City: Following their leader in excuses
After the game, Jesus Navas said until the Demichelis red car, City was "controlling the game." What game was he a part of? Obviously not this game, apparently. That's weak on Navas' part. I guess whatever makes you feel better, Jesus. Vincent Kompany said his team felt Barcelona were not superior to City when it was 11 against 11. Again, another odd comment. I understand there are some things you simply cannot admit as an athlete, but still, when it's as clear as this game was of FCB's superiority in controlling the game, possession-wise and tempo-wise, you'd think an opponent would be a bit more humbler than that. Then again, Kompany's frustration made him say that.
Manuel Pellegrini started the conspiracy/UEFAlona theories by stating that referee, Jonas Eriksson, was biased toward Barcelona and that a referee from Sweden should not have been officiating a game of this magnitude in the Champions League. "I told him (Eriksson) he decided the game. I was not happy. He did not have any control of the game. He favored Barcelona from the beginning to the end. I do not think it was a good idea to put a referee from Sweden in charge..."
Stay classy, Manuel. Perhaps your frustration is more about your inability to defeat Barcelona. You couldn't do it with Real Madrid, or Málaga, or now at Manchester City. I was surprised to see Manuel put his team's inability to create better chances or to gain possession aside, and instead, blame the referee for the loss. And it was low class to say a referee from Sweden shouldn't be officiating a game like this. I don't believe Eriksson was trying to "make up" for a bad call against Barcelona.
I have always respected Pellegrini, but now I think "the engineer" is overly frustrated that he cannot "design" a win against Barcelona, and is full of excuses as if he were a Madridista. And by the looks and sounds of things, his team—minus Yaya Toure, Alvaro Negredo, and Pablo Zabaleta—follows his lead.
Dani Alves: Never stop working
Dani Alves was straight ballin' all night for Barça. Sure, there were a few poor crosses, but hey, that happens with Alves. But his hustle was unstoppable all game long, and when Demichelis was rightfully sent off, Dani knew he could be the X factor to sink City's blue ship. Alves continued to pressure from the right wing as he moved up to try and set up a goal. In the 68th minute, Dani nearly had a goal as his shot went a foot or two wide of the far post.
But in the 90th minute, Dani got the goal he was looking for as his countryman Neymar gave the ball back to Dani, and Alves' hustle was able to get to the ball before Joe Hart could and slip it past Hart and into the back of the net. That goal completely changed this tie. Instead of needing a 1-0 to, at minimum, go into extra time in the second leg if the first leg would have ended 1-0 Barça, City will have to try and get a 3-0 or 3-1 win or greater to move on to the quarterfinals.
But remember, it's nearly impossible for City or any team to shut out FC Barcelona at the Camp Nou in any competition. Dani Alves' goal may be the cannonball shot/goal that sinks City's ship.
Over the past few weeks, there has been much talk about Barcelona fading away. From Philipp Lahm's comments about FCB not being favorites—I personally did not find anything wrong with Lahm's comments—to Jose Mourinho saying this is the worst Barça in years, to the media making Manchester City the favorites in this Champions League tie, many seem to be desirous of seeing Barcelona's demise, if not, disrespect the Catalan giants.
On Wednesday night, FC Barcelona shut a whole lot of people up.
Does this team still have much to improve upon? Of course. The defense is still shaky, and that is a major concern. But it seems like many have either forgotten that this team is still the leaders in La Liga, are in the Copa Del Rey final and so on. I don't understand why there are so many people that suddenly forgot how good this team is. Perhaps it's because of the success of the Pep Guardiola years that FCB has such high standards for some. I can buy that. But what I can't buy is how many so-called "football experts" and even people in the game (players, managers) have suddenly forgotten that this team is still one the best in the world.
It's more than just hating on Barcelona. It's stupidity and ignorance by many.
The reason I said I had no issue with Philipp Lahm's comment is because he is right: FC Barcelona are not favorites this season. I'd be stupid and ignorant to not acknowledge that Bayern Munich are and should be considered the favorites. They are a great team, are the defending champions, managed by Pep, and deserve to be considered the favorites. I respect Bayern, but I'll take my Barça any day.
This FC Barcelona club is warming up and getting healthy at the right time, and on Tuesday, they proved they have been and will continue to be one of the favorites in this Champions League. Barça have earned and deserve respect. And with their 2-0 win on the road against Manchester City, Barcelona shut up many and made a huge statement to the football world: we are always to be feared.
Xoel's Final Word
The match-up the football world was waiting for arrived. And on Tuesday night at the Etihad Stadium, FC Barcelona came, saw, and conquered as they defeated Manchester City with a 2-0 scoreline.
There is still a second leg in this tie, and Barcelona will be at home to look to finish off City. But that is not for a while, so time to re-focus on La Liga this weekend.
Way to make a statement, boys!
Xoel, The Voice of FC Barcelona