FC Barcelona will be going into the second leg of the Round of 16 tie against Manchester City with a slim advantage as a first half Luis Suarez brace was enough for the Catalans to see of a strong second half push by the home side. Sergio Agüero scored the only goal for City, but Barcelona squandered an excellent opportunity for a bigger lead with a missed last minute penalty.
|Manchester City FC
|Shots on Target||4||6|
There were no surprises in the Barcelona starting lineup. Marc-Andre ter Stegen continued to be the first choice goalkeeper in the Champions League. Javier Mascherano started alongside Gerard Pique in the heart of the defense while Ivan Rakitić and Andres Iniesta formed the midfield duo. Manchester City were able to count on most of their best players, but they were forced to play without the influential Yaya Toure.
Barcelona started the match from midfield and quickly created their first chance of the match after a dangerous pass into the penalty area was intercepted by Vincent Kompany, but his clearance went uncomfortably close to Joe Hart's net.
Manchester City pressed Barcelona very high up the pitch from the opening whistle, causing Barcelona to lose possession often in their own half. This gave City a very short field to play with when in possession, and the hosts were able to quickly create a couple of chances in quick succession. The first came in the 6th minute when Edin Džeko fired a shot, but Pique was able to block it.
Sergio Agüero was especially dangerous for the Barcelona defensive line. Mascherano was tasked with covering his compatriot and in the early minutes showed examples of how to defend him and how not to defend him. He gave up a dangerous free kick for a foul on Agüero in the 8th minute, but the kick was blocked on its way on target.
After minutes of pressure by the hosts Barcelona were again able to assert their style of play, quickly starting to threaten to score the opening goal. First Neymar created a good chance for Lionel Messi, but the Argentine's shot was excellently blocked. Just second later Suarez tried to find the open man in the middle, but his cross was blocked. The rebound, however, fell back to the Uruguay international, who quickly took the shot, but it whistled wide of the post.
But in the 16th minute Barcelona were able to draw first blood. After a close-quarters battle on the right side, Messi was able to send a cross in front of goal where Kompany appeared to be in the perfect spot to clear the ball. His clearance, however, was absolutely terrible and the ball stopped in a perfect place for Suarez to take an uncontested shot on target that Hart had no chance of stopping. Barcelona's initial plan was therefore already achieved after about a quarter hour of play - to score the all-important away goal.
The hosts were not discouraged by the early deficit, quickly starting to press Barça even higher up the pitch. Barcelona struggled to control the ball during this stretch, turning the ball over a few too many times for comfort, but City were unable to take advantag. The closest they came to beating ter Stegen was in the 21st minute when Džeko rose the highest to get on the receiving end of the cross, but his header went wide of the target.
Barcelona were again able to withstand the minutes of pressure without allowing a single shot on goal and responded to that with several chances of their own. The first came five minutes after Džeko's chance when Suarez was played behind the City defense. Facing Hart one-on-one Suarez opted for a low shot, but the goalkeeper was able to stop his try.
Four minutes later, at the half hour mark Suarez took his third shot on target, the second that found the back of the net. Rakitić and Messi combined nicely in the middle before Messi found the onrushing Alba on the left side. Searching for options in the middle, but none available, Alba held on to the ball for a couple of second before sending a perfect ball onto to toes of the diving Suarez who, with the help of the post, beat Hart for the second time. With the goal Suarez completed his first Barcelona brace. He also became the first Barcelona player ever to score two goals in 30 minutes of a Champions League away game.
Barcelona continued to press toward the goal and quickly created a couple more scoring chances. First Neymar was played behind the line by Messi before the Brazilian attempted a lovely chip over the goalkeeper. The shot, however, was not only off target it was also cleared by Kompany before it even reached the goal-line. In the 36th minute Neymar returned the favor to Messi as the two played a gorgeous one-two with Messi showing incredible ingenuity to get open for the shot, but Hart read the play well and collected the ball before Messi could attempt a shot on target.
The two teams would spend the next few minutes fighting it out for the ball in midfield before another comical clearance from the Manchester City defensive line gifted a chance to Dani Alves. The Brazilian had options in the middle, but decided to surprise the goalkeeper with a shot of his own. His chipped attempt beat Hart, but the ball did not dip enough and hit the crossbar before going out of play.
The last shot of the half would be City's. After a couple defensive plays that could've been better the ball remained in the hosts' possession, before Nasri received the ball in space 20-yards out. He fired a strong shot on target, but ter Stegen was up to the task. He was unable to hold on to the ball though, with City winning a corner kick. But the hosts were unable to convert it and referee Felix Brych whistled for halftime.
The second half started with a quick Manchester City attack right from kickoff, from which they won a corner. The ensuing cross caused some panic in the Barcelona box, but because Fernando was unable to control the ball, Barcelona were able to clear the danger. Desperately needing a goal to stay in the tie, City continued with the early all-out attack, winning another corner kick just a minute later. This time Džeko easily won the header, but like in the first half his attempt went wide.
Barcelona barely touched the ball in the opening five minutes after the restart, with City creating a few more scoring chances in the 49th minute. First Nasri was presented with a clear look on goal, but out of nowhere Mascherano came flying in, blocking the Frenchman's attempt. Seconds later, Džeko had another chance to beat ter Stegen, but even though he had a lot of time he instinctively quickly tried to head the ball past ter Stegen, but the ball went right into the hands of the goalkeeper.
After the 50 minute mark Barcelona finally managed to step on the ball, halting City onslaught and started threatening to further extend their lead. But the Catalans were still susceptible to the occasional turnover in midfield which more often than not resulted in a dangerous chance for City on the counter attack. A similar play almost cost Barcelona in the 54th minute, but after Mascherano was unable to disposes Aguero, the Argentine forward couldn't curl his shot on target.
Four minutes later the hosts created another scoring chance from a set piece. This one came from a long free kick from the left side, but once again the header from just a couple yards out was too weak to beat the Barcelona goalkeeper.
Despite all of the aforementioned City's scoring chances Barcelona still held the ball more in possession than their opponents did, though the difference wasn't as big as it was in the first half. Barcelona didn't create their first good looking chance until the one hour mark, but that play was whistled dead for offside. Quickly thereafter Manuel Pellegrini made his first substitution, taking the man that had many good looks on goal, Nasri, off the pitch, and replaced him with Fernandinho.
Barcelona were finally able to pile on some consistent pressure in the 64th minute, and City's defense was quickly in all sorts of trouble, but despite a couple half-chances Barcelona were unable to test Hart.
Pellegrini then made his second substitution, replacing Džeko with Wilfried Bony, and Bony was quickly involved in the play that resulted in City's goal a minute later. The play started near midfield where Messi lost the ball, and after a couple of passes, including one from Bony, Agüero was left with a simple finish to bring the hosts within one.
Luis Enrique quickly reacted to the halved lead, taking a central midfielder, Rakitić, off the pitch and replaced him with a defender, Jeremy Mathieu. Mascherano therefore moved a bit higher up the pitch, to play defensive midfielder.
Manchester City were left with only ten players on the pitch in the 74th minute, as Gael Clichy picked up a second yellow card for a clumsy tackle on Alves. Immediately after, Alves was taken off the pitch, replaced by Adriano Correia. Replays later showed that Alves was far from happy when walking to the stands, the reason behind his anger, however, remains unknown.
Three minutes later Barcelona created their best looking chance of the second half so far. The City defense appeared like it had fallen asleep, leaving the two main protagonists, Messi and Alba, both with acres of space deep inside the penalty box. Alba was able to find Messi, but Messi's shot was blocked to the extent that it became a perfect chip over the goalkeeper. Hart, however, was able to get his fingertips on the ball, barely tipping the ball over the crossbar.
In a matter of minutes both managers then completed their third, and final, substitutions of the game. Pellegrini reacted to the sending off, replacing David Silva with Bacary Sagna, while Lucho made a like-for-like sub, taking Neymar off the pitch and replacing him with the hard-working Pedro.
Despite being a man down the hosts occasionally still threatened to score the equalizer, often forcing the Barcelona backline, most notably Pique, into some panicky clearances. In the dying seconds of regular time Barcelona appeared to have restored their two goal lead, but Messi's lovely chip was ruled out for offside side. It was close, but the call made was correct.
The three minutes of added time were far from uneventful as Barcelona continuously buzzed around the penalty area. In the very last minute of added time Messi and Pedro brilliantly combined inside the box, with Messi being brought down for a penalty by Pablo Zabaleta, who overall had an excellent game. Messi himself took responsibility for the kick, but he promptly sent it right into the hands of Hart. Similarly to the game against Atletico Madrid, the rebound again fell right to Messi, but this time the Argentine was unable to send the ball into the completely open net.
Had Messi scored, the second leg, played at the Camp Nou on March 18, just days before the El Clasico, would've been a mere formality, but now, Manchester City still have a chance to win the tie. It won't be easy for the English side, but Barcelona did not put the tie to bed - even though they had a chance to.
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