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Barcelona 4-0 Manchester City, 2016 Champions League: Match Review

Recap of the action from Barcelona’s emphatic win against Manchester City

FC Barcelona v Manchester City FC - UEFA Champions League Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The highly anticipated return of Pep Guardiola to Barcelona with Manchester City did not go according to plan of the former Barcelona manager. The visitors were haunted by Lionel Messi’s second hat-trick of the 2106-17 Champions League season, with one goal coming in the first half and two coming in the second, after Claudio Bravo picked up a straight red card. Neymar provided the icing on the cake with the final, fourth, goal of the night.

The match started with Manchester City pressing very high up the pitch, hoping to force Marc-Andre ter Stegen, or one of the defenders, to make a mistake in possession. The Catalans were able to withstand the early press and quickly launched a dangerous attack with Neymar winning the duel against Nolito, but the Brazilian’s lovely cut-back pass didn’t find the intended receiver.

The high paced tempo continued with both teams looking to earn an early advantage. City continued to press high up the pitch, hoping to start an attack with a short field, while Barcelona looked to patiently build from the back.

Just nine minutes into the game, Jordi Alba was forced out of the game with an apparent leg injury. He was replaced by Lucas Digne. Alba had been struggling with injuries this season and one has to wonder whether he was forced back too quickly…

The intense midfield battle waged on, but with City’s pressure slightly easing, Barcelona slowly started to gain more and more momentum. And in the 17th minute Barcelona fans were able to celebrate the lead. Javier Mascherano led the Barcelona attack down the right wing. He was brought down, but with the ball falling to Messi the play continued. The Argentine sent a brilliant through ball to Andres Iniesta who somehow managed to send the ball back to near the penalty spot. With Fernandinho in good position to clear the ball away Messi froze, but the Brazilian slipped and Messi went off to the races. Now the rest of the Manchester City defense froze and Messi easily reached the loose ball first. Messi waited for Claudio Bravo to commit, then pulled the ball past his former teammate and sent it into the empty net.

Three minutes later Barcelona had another chance with Messi once again exhibiting excellent ball control. That coupled with some more indecisiveness from the City defense resulted in an excellent chance for Luis Suarez who unexpectedly received the ball on the far post. The Uruguay international wasted no time to fire, but his shot went wide.

Barcelona’s injury problems worsened in the 28th minute with Gerard Pique falling victim to a clumsy diving challenge from David Silva that resulted in plenty of pain in Pique’s right ankle. The defender needed some extended time to get back on his feet, but would try to play on. As time would tell, he was unable to.

With Pique clearly struggling, the Manchester side created their best scoring chances of the first half. First, in the 37th minute, Silva played Nolito behind the defense on the left side, but the former Barcelona winger’s shot/pass was excellently met by the well positioned ter Stegen. Just over a minute later, the young German would be called into action again. İlkay Gündoğan easily dribbled past the hobbling Pique and fired a dangerous shot seemingly destined for the far post, but ter Stegen was again perfectly positioned to prevent a goal.

Pique did his best to play through the pain and discomfort, but Luis Enrique had seen enough, and with Jeremy Mathieu warming up for about 10 minutes the change was made - the second injury substitution of the first half. While Barcelona looked the better side in the opening 30 minutes, the visitors took advantage of the injury bug that ravaged the defensive line and looked more decisive in the last 15.

The most clear-cut scoring chance for the visitors came in the final seconds of regular time, with Silva sending a very accurate cross from a free-kick from the left side to a wide open John Stones on the far post, but the Englishman’s header whistled wide of ter Stegen’s left post.

Barcelona quickly countered with an excellent opportunity of their own. Messi sent the ball to Suarez on the edge of the area, who made an excellent turn to shed the defender and aimed low to Bravo’s left. The Chilean stretched out his left leg and made the save with his toe. The ball kicked up and was going to fall into the unguarded net, but Bravo dove back and tipped the ball over the bar.

City would create one last chance before the halftime whistle, with the attack this time coming down Digne’s side. Raheem Sterling was trying to dribble his way past the Frenchman and caused him some problems. With space won to send a dangerous cross in, Sterling was looking for Kevin De Bruyne, but the ball deflected off Digne’s left arm and skipped right to ter Stegen. The visitors were hoping for a penalty kick as Digne’s handball came inside the area, but the Serbian refereeing crew would have none of that.

Manchester City came storming out of the gates and it didn’t take even two minutes for the Citizens to threaten. Sterling came gunning down the right side and found the onrushing De Bruyne who tried to surprise ter Stegen with a quick shot, but the young German was ready.

Barcelona quickly regrouped and started to see more of the ball once again. And when Barcelona have the ball there is always a chance for a goal. And one of those chances came in the 50th minute from a corner kick as Neymar found Samuel Umtiti in front, but the Frenchman’s header whistled just wide of the post.

Three minutes later, a seemingly simple clearance from the Barcelona defense caused all kinds of problems to the City defense. Bravo left his area to meet the ball and pass it to one of his defenders. However, he mishit the ball, passing it straight to Suarez, who immediately attempted a chip from 40-yards. Bravo reached up and made the “save”, but he was outside of his area at the time which, by rule, is a straight red card. Willy Caballero replaced Bravo in goal, taking the place of Nolito on the pitch. Earlier on that same play, Pablo Zabaleta also picked up an injury as he was clipped on the clearance by Digne and had to be replaced by Gaël Clichy.

With the man advantage Barcelona’s chances of winning the three points became even better. More so in the 61st minute when Messi doubled Barcelona’s lead. De Bruyne lost the ball in transition and Iniesta quickly fed it to Messi who made a couple of steps before dispatching the ball inside of the post and out of Caballero’s reach.

Despite being one man and two goals down, Manchester City wasn’t just going to throw in the towel. In the 64th minute, Gündoğan played an excellent through ball to De Bruyne who fired a good shot on goal, but ter Stegen was there to make an equally good save.

The visitors continued to look for the unlikely opportunity to start the comeback, but that task became even more daunting in the 69th minute when another mistake in transition again cost the visitors. Gündoğan’s back pass was snuffed out by Suarez who was suddenly one-on-one with Caballero. Suarez unselfishly cut the ball back to Messi who was coming in support and the Argentine was left with a simple finish for his second hat-trick in his second Champions League game of the season.

Still, City would not go quietly into the night and ter Stegen had to make another strong save in the 72nd minute, this time on Aleksandar Kolarov’s free kick attempt. City would have another chance from the rebound, but Barcelona’s defense reacted better than the visitors did. Moments later Mathieu picked up his second yellow card in as many minutes for an early shower. But by now the visitors were too far back for any chance of a comeback.

In the 79th minute Lucho finally manage to make an unforced substitution, giving Iniesta some well-deserved rest and replaced him with Andre Gomes. Barcelona’s quest for goals wouldn’t stop just yet though, with Neymar being in the thick of it on all three scoring opportunities. First, in the 82nd minute, Ivan Rakitić crossed the ball perfectly to Neymar who fired on goal, but Caballero made the save. Four minutes later, Messi was brought down in the area. Neymar took the penalty kick and after a stutter step, and another stutter step, had it easily saved by the Argentine goalkeeper.

Neymar made up for his penalty miss in the 89th as he dribbled past Stones and shot to the far post. Caballero got a finger on it, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the goal. With the win Barcelona have firmly entrenched themselves in first place in Group C, five points ahead of their nearest rival, Manchester City. Now, however, it is back to La Liga for Barcelona and Saturday will come very quickly. And with two more added to the injury list the visit to Mestalla will be anything but easy.

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