Wednesday night, we were treated to yet another titanic clash in the Champions League as Manchester City travelled to take on Barcelona. The match served as sort of homecoming for two men in the visiting side with Pep Guardiola returning for a second time since departing the Nou Camp, and Claudio Bravo making his first appearance against his former club. Sadly, for the two former Barça players, this would definitely be a night to forget.
It took just 17 minutes for the hosts to take the lead. Lionel Messi picked out Andres Iniesta inside the penalty area and the Spanish magician played a magnificent no look pass back into the middle that left Fernandinho on the floor. That left Messi with just Bravo to beat, and he was never going to mess that up as he promptly dribbled around his former teammate to tap home the opening goal.
Despite the early setback, City did what most teams would never try and do against Barça: actually attack. The Cityzens didn’t look intimidated by Messi and company, but maybe they should have been. Luis Enrique’s side continued to launch attack after attack at Bravo’s net, and they looked the clear favorites to find the match’s next goal.
City finished the first half strong with Kevin De Bruyne and Nolito both forcing Marc-André ter Stegen into relatively comfortable saves. In the 38th minute, Ilkay Gundogan dribbled past two defenders before unleashing a powerful shot. Luckily for Barça, ter Stegen was there with a quick diving save to maintain the one-goal advantage.
The half came to a near thrilling conclusion with both sides coming within inches of finding the back of the net. On one end, John Stones should have at least hit the target with his open header, but he could only manage to flash it wide of the post. Moments later, Messi and Luis Suárez picked apart City’s defense with the Uruguayan’s shot needing two saves from Bravo to knock it over the bar.
Any momentum that City had from their positive end to the first half came to a grinding halt in the 52nd minute. Bravo, who was signed because of his distribution ability, came out to clear the ball, but mishit his pass directly to Suárez. The former Liverpool striker was quick to react and tried sending a lobbed effort into the back of the net, but was denied by the fingertips of Bravo.
Unfortunately for Bravo, and for City, he was well outside of the penalty area and was given a straight red card for his troubles. For the final 40 minutes, the Sky Blues would have to try and beat arguably the best team in the world with just 10 men.
It didn’t even take 10 minutes for Barça to capitalize on their numerical advantage. Messi received a pass from Iniesta on the edge of the penalty area and picked out the bottom corner to bag his second of the night. 2-0 Barcelona.
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) October 19, 2016
In the 69th minute, Messi completed his hat trick. A complete lapse of communication at the back for City saw Gundogan’s pass inadvertently dummied by Stones gifting Suárez the ball in the penalty area. Unselfishly, the striker found Messi wide open in the middle of the box to tap in his easiest goal of the night. 3-0 Barcelona.
Things got a little bit more interesting in the 73rd minute when Jérémy Mathieu received a second yellow card for a reckless challenge on Raheem Sterling. Just like in NHL overtimes, the two sides would have to close out the match each playing a man down.
With just five minutes left of the 90, Barça had a chance to add a fourth goal from the penalty spot after a foul from Aleksander Kolarov on Messi. Being the gracious teammate that he is, Messi let Neymar take the penalty kick. Maybe he just should’ve taken it. The Brazilian took a Zaza-esque run up and was then stonewalled by Willy Caballero.
A couple minutes later, Neymar atoned for his penalty miss. He danced through City’s defense with ease and then placed a low shot into the far corner.
The 24-year-old’s goal capped off a 4-0 statement win for Barcelona, and now the Catalan club sit with a five-point lead atop Group C. For City, this will serve as a learning experience, but they still have to be considered the favorites to join Barça in the knockout rounds. These two sides won’t have to wait long for a rematch with the return fixture at the Etihad scheduled for November 1st.