FC Barcelona are in the driver's seat in their UEFA Champions League round-of-16 tie, as Barça defeated Manchester City, 2-1, at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday night.
Luis Suarez got the scoring starting in the 16th minute as a nice cross by Leo Messi found the Uruguayan, and Luisito slammed it past Joe Hart for the opening and the always important away goal. Luis tried a flick-on, had his attempt blocked by Vincent Kompany, but the ball landed by Suarez's feet and "el pistolero" slapped the ball past Hart.
Suarez got his brace in the 30th minute, as a great run by Messi led to him passing it to Jordi Alba whose cross found the foot of Suarez to quiet the Eithad Stadium. Twenty-two passes from Barcelona to end with the Suarez goal. Simply unreal. Simply Barça.
In the second half, Eden Dzeko had a wide-open header just feet away from goal, but his header went right at Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who made the close save look easier than it was. Gerard Pique had a huge stop on an attempted City cross in the 65th minute. Sergio Aguero brought City back to within one, as a lovely play by David Silva set up Kun's run and slammed it past Ter Stegen. Gael Clichy picked up his second yellow card, and will miss the second leg at the Camp Nou.
With just a minute left in stoppage time, Messi was brought down in the box, and a penalty was awarded. Leo stepped up...but his PK was saved by Hart. Messi's rebound header went wide and the game was over.
FT: Manchester City 1-2 FC Barcelona
Barcelona leaves England with two road goals in their pocket, while City has an uphill battle ahead of them.
Let me start off by saying what an incredible first half by Barcelona. Completely dominated and was even toying with City at times.
Before the game, I was hopeful Luis Suarez would go to England and quiet some English fans:
Luis Suarez scoring a goal or two would be poetic! Seeing the English fans and media cringe would be icing on the cake. ;)— Xoel Càrdenas (@XoelCardenas) February 24, 2015
Just like he did in the 2014 World Cup, Luis Suarez silenced an English crowd once again.
What a return to England for Luisito! It was Suarez's first brace as a Barcelona player. You have to think Suarez will gain more confidence with this performance. The way Luis can slap a ball into the net is incredible, with the first goal being a great example of this. On Suarez's second goal, let's give credit to Jordi Alba for his vision and touch to put the ball in the exact place where only Suarez can reach it, as City defenders where around. Messi created the goal, with him running around the City defenders to set up Alba who lastly found Suarez. "Hockey assist" for Leo.
Gerard Pique continues to show that he is once again a world-class defender. Let's be honest and admit that Pique's game fell over the past few seasons. But this season, Mr. Shakira has returned to 2010-11 form. Pique had great blocks and clearances against City, and even moved the ball up forward a few times. I know I have been tough on Pique over the past few season. This season, I cannot be critical of Pique and quite frankly, he has shut me up completely. "Piquenbauer" continues to shine, and is by far the best defender on this Barça squad.
The midfield had a decent game, mainly because of Ivan Rakitic. Ter Stegen was calm and cool. There were some players who were off for Barça. Javier Mascherano was not at his best against City. Masche had a tough time against Aguero all match. Dani Alves was poor once again, and Jordi Alba was, for some reason, very angry all match as well. I don't know what both Alba and Alves' issues were—perhaps Alves mad at being subbed off and Alba thinking he was getting fouled—but both need to calm down and focus in the second leg. The man who was missing for Barcelona at forward was Neymar. The Brazilian did not do much against City, and if Suarez didn't have a big first half, critics and some Culés would have slammed Neymar even more. My hope is that Neymar has learned how City defend against him, and that Ney will be ready to expose City in the second leg.
I must admit I am a bit disappointed Luis Enrique didn't push his men up a bit more to try and kill off City once Clichy was sent off. The Ivan Rakitic for Jeremy Mathieu switch was a defensive move to not allow an equalizer, with Mascherano heading to the midfield. Perhaps another manager would've gone with an attacking midfielder to try and get a third goal. Then again, I can't fault Lucho too much, as an equalizer by City would've been devastating for Barcelona, thus pushing forward was not a priority.
Joe Hart's save on Leo Messi's penalty was obviously huge for City. A 3-1 Barcelona win would have essentially ended the tie. While it's disappointing that Messi missed the PK, my hope is that the miss will only fuel the fire within Leo to go into the second leg in Barcelona looking to tear up City.
For the second leg, I would switch things up. I'd start Xavi in place of Andres Iniesta, with Rakitic on the other side. In place of Sergio Busquets, I'd bring in Mascherano at CDM to give Barcelona a better defensive advantage. In the back line, I would go with Marc Bartra to go with along with Pique. While Bartra and Pique technically do play the same position (right CB) in the back line, both have played together in the same line before. When Luis Enrique has allowed Bartra to play, Marc has done very well. If Dani Alves continues his poor play, Lucho should consider Adriano, who like Dani, can move up on attack when needed.
Xoel's Final Word
After having their 11-match win streak snapped last weekend, FC Barcelona took their talents to England and showed the world why it cannot be underestimated in the Champions League, as Barça defeated Man City, 2-1.
Barcelona will host City in the second leg on Wednesday, March 18.
With this win over Manchester City, Barça can focus on starting a new win streak.
Other than an El Clásico win, there's nothing better than a FC Barcelona win in the Champions League.
Visca el Barça i Visca Catalunya
The day my wife (or girlfriend) is about to give birth to our child, I'm going to play the Champions League hymn in the delivery room. ;)— Xoel Càrdenas (@XoelCardenas) February 24, 2015