Ten-man City will have to produce a remarkable turnaround in the second leg after losing 2-0 to Barcelona at the Etihad in the Champions League Round of 16.
Martin Demichelis was dismissed on 53 minutes for pulling down Lionel Messi as he raced through on goal, but the Blues were dealt a double whammy as the referee also pointed to the penalty spot – despite TV replays suggesting the foul was outside the box.
Messi scored from the spot and a 90th-minute Danny Alves goal sealed victory for the Spaniards – but the Blues were given a standing ovation from the Etihad crowd for their effort and endeavour despite being a man down.
City will still believe the tie is not yet over, however and in football, never say never.
Manuel Pellegrini sprang one selection surprise by selecting Aleksandar Kolarov on the left of midfield with City appearing to opt for a formation that resembled 4-5-1 with Alvaro Negredo winning the nod as the lone striker.
The Blues were clearly intent on approaching this game a little differently.
The cavalier style that has put so many teams to the sword this season was temporarily shelved, particularly in the opening exchanges as both teams weighed each other up, pressing from the front and battling for possession
Barca enjoyed more of the ball in the first 20 minutes, but City steadily began to grow in confidence, threatening first when Negredo rounded keeper Victor Valdes but was forced too far wide to find the net – and then when an almighty scramble from a David Silva free-kick predictably ended with the whistle blowing for a questionable foul on Valdes.
The crowd, buoyed on by a decent spell of pressure by the Blues lifted the decibels several levels and Barca had to wait until the 32nd minute before Xavi forced Joe Hart into a smart save. It was fascinating stuff and the Blues, penned back in their own half for much of the first period, were happy to try and catch the Catalans on the break.
The only thing that was spoiling an entertaining game was the over-fussy referee Jonas Eriksson who seemed to blow his whistle for anything and everything, much to the chagrin of the home support and players
It was a credit to the Blues’ rear-guard that Messi had been virtually anonymous as the teams went in 0-0 at the break – not that anyone believed he wouldn’t spring to life at some point. The visitors might have enjoyed 62% of the possession to that point, but they had not really threatened to break the deadlock.
It felt like a game of chess at times and as the clock ticked on, more and more it felt like this game would be settled by one moment of individual brilliance, but then, on 53 minutes, the complexion of the match and perhaps the whole tie changed when Jesus Navas appeared to be body checked just over the halfway line – but there was no whistle, City let their guard down and Iniesta played Messi clean through.
Demichelis tried in vain to stop the Argentine with a desperate sliding tackle but he merely brought the Barcelona star down and the referee pointed to the spot as well as sending the City defender off.
TV replays suggested the first contact was outside the box, but it mattered little as Messi stroked home the penalty and suddenly the Blues were facing a monumental challenge – it’s difficult enough facing Barca with eleven men, let alone ten.
It was harsh on City and a hefty price for a momentary lapse in concentration, but such is life in the Champions League. With so much time remaining, the Blues aim now became damage limitation with a second leg still to come next month.
For the next 20 minutes the visitors continually threatened with Alves shaving a post with a low drive and countless other attacks repelled or scrambled clear as City grimly clung on.
With composure regained, Silva went close to levelling the scores on 78 minutes with a volley from 18 yards after Pablo Zabaleta’s clever pass had played him in, but it was safely collected by Valdes.
Then Silva’s long pass found Edin Dzeko who controlled the ball superbly and almost slid the ball under Valdes – only for the official to give handball against the Bosnian.
It was a brave reaction from City who refused to be overrun or overawed, but when it appeared the Blues would travel to Spain just a goal behind, Alves was presented with another one-one with Hart in the 90th minute and this time he made no mistake to give the visitors a sizeable advantage going into the return leg next month.
It was harsh on City who deserved better, but Pellegrini's men will travel to Camp Nou and give it their all – make no mistake about that.
We have taken a massive 360 degree image of the fans at the match.
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