After four days of tolerating much criticism from their loss to Real Valladolid, FC Barcelona responded and showed why they are still a threat in the Champions League as El Blaugrana defeated Manchester City 2-1 at the Camp Nou on Tuesday night.
Lionel Messi gabbed his much-deserved goal in the 67th minute as a mistake on defense by Joleon Lescott lead to King Leo putting it past Joe Hart and giving Barcelona a three-goal aggregate lead. With that goal, Messi surpassed Real Madrid's Raúl and became the Champions League's all-time leader for most CL goal for a single club with 67 goals. Vincent Kompany tipped in an equalizer in the 89th minute. Like in the first leg in Manchester, Dani Alves closed out City once again as he scored in stoppage time to seal the win.
Barça moves on to the quarterfinals of the Champions League with a 4-1 aggregate win over City. FC Barcelona is the third club to reach the Champions League's quarterfinals for seven straight years, after Manchester United (1997-2003) & Real Madrid (1998-2004) (via Mr. Chip).
Let's get the Best, Worst, and "What We Learned" from this game.
The Best: Lionel Messi, Jordi Alba, Victor Valdes, and Vincent Kompany
King Leo was a beast against City. The runs he was making were like the ones he used to make prior to his injury-filled 2013, and his passes were solid. Given the City defense looked poor and had many one-on-one chances for Leo and Neymar, Messi kept City's back line worried and made them exhaust energy all night. If it weren't for a poor non-call on an obvious penalty and a few inches more to the right on a shot, we'd be talking about how Messi's hat trick dominated City. Nevertheless, Leo made his presence felt on the night with one goal and one great performance.
Jordi Alba was the man of the match for me, with all due respect to Messi. Jordi was flying everywhere on the night, and had a few key defensive plays when City was setting up trouble for Barça early in the game. Alba was not offside when Cesc Fabregas found in early in the game to set up what should have been Neymar's goal. Great game by "The Flying Squirrel", as I lovingly call him. Victor Valdes had some great stops against City, including Samir Nasri's close-range shot late in the first half and Edin Dzeko's header in the second half. Finally, I want to show my respect to Vincent Kompany. He had a great game for City, and he is a true leader for the Citizens. I know it will never happen, but I'd love to have Kompany at Barcelona. Good game, Vincent.
The Worst: Stéphane Lannoy
By far, "The Worst" has to go to referee Stéphane Lannoy. The Frenchman had a terrible officiating performance. Some of the low-lights included not calling a deserved penalty against Joleon Lescott on Messi, there were fouls that deserved to be booked but weren't, and missed a penalty for City (Gerard Pique tripping Dzeko) late in the game.
Many City and Barça fans were upset at Lannoy for selfish reasons; it happens. But Stéphane Lannoy was poor, overall, and doesn't deserve to officiate another Champions League match for the rest of the season. A few mistakes happen, but this was 90 minutes of bad officiating and we can't have that in the Champions League quarterfinals and beyond. UEFA, do what's right and order Mr. Lannoy to stay home.
What We Learned: Despite eliminating City, Barcelona is not "back" yet.
FC Barcelona showed they can step up and win big games as they defeated and eliminated Manchester City. But despite eliminating City and moving on to the quarterfinals, this Barça team is not "back" yet.
After the game, Leo Messi said this team is back to their best. That's true to an extent, Barcelona were back to their best against Manchester City. But that doesn't mean this team is back to their best, overall. I'm not trying to belittle what Leo said in any way. I love Leo, and I'm glad he believes this team is back to their best. But I worry about this team only stepping up in "big games" and not all of the games. Barcelona has played well in big games like in El Clásico back in October, their Copa Del Rey campaign, and against Manchester City. But Barça has struggled in many of the "non-big games" like against Valencia, at Getafe, at Real Sociedad, and last week at Valladolid.
Last week, I criticized Barcelona and said their run of dominance since 2008 is coming to an end, with a new era coming this summer. One of the many reasons for this is because Barcelona is no longer stepping up to all opponents like before-looking lethargic, uncreative, and uninterested in many games this season. Until FC Barcelona goes on a long run where their creativity, increase in dynamic plays, and consistency on defense occur, it's tough to believe this team is truly "back" to their best after one good game against City.
I'm sorry, but one game-despite it being a good showing-does not wash away all the faults and struggles this team has had all season long. While the offense needs to improve (it can't all be Messi), the FCB defense will be one of, if not, the biggest reason(s) this team truly does come back to its best or not. Yes, defense is Barça's biggest weakness, but if this back line can go on a run (meaning, consistency is needed) of good play, Barcelona is capable of going on a terrific run of winning, and not just the big games. For said big games, the defense must be near-lights out in the Champions League with the likes of Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, and PSG all having potent attacking firepower on offense.
Good win against City, but I'm still not ready to say this team is 100% "back."
What's Next?: Sunday vs. Osasuna
Barcelona will host Osasuna on Sunday at the Camp Nou. Look for Alexis Sanchez to start, as he didn't start against City; Pedro as well. Marc Bartra deserves a start. Don't be surprised to see Alex Song start to give Sergio Busquets a rest.
Xoel's Final Word
It was a solid performance by FC Barcelona as they eliminated Manchester City with a 2-1 win (4-1 on aggregate) on Wednesday night.
On to the quarterfinals!
Let's keep it this way, boys!
Xoel, The Voice of
FC Barcelona Els Culés ("Los Culés", The Culés") (changing it to something more fitting and appropriate)