In front of 59,000 home crowd fans, Manchester City scored two first-half goals and then held off a resurgent Barcelona to record a 2-1 victory at Etihad Stadium. The victory clinched three vital Champions League points for the sky blues.
It was a match between two of the best-performing, best-coached teams in the world, and in patches the game was worthy of the spectacle it promised.
City had all the early possession and all the momentum, threatening the Barcelona goal in the 12th minute and again just six minutes later. Only the desperate saves of the Barcelona keeper kept the Spanish giants in the game. For City it was an impressive start, and for long spells of play Barcelona were hard on their heels defensively.
Ironically, a blunder from the Barcelona keeper was the catalyst for the first of City’s goals.
After absorbing so much pressure and several shots on goal, the Barcelona keeper badly miscued a simple clearing kick, laying the ball at the feet of Aguero instead of his despairing defender.
The City striker pounced on the error, carrying the ball just inside the penalty box and firing at an open goal as the keeper scrambled to recover position.
Aguero fires on goal for Manchester City while the Barcelona keeper tries desperately to recover his position. City takes the lead 1-0.
Barcelona’s defensive organization continued to be tested and City were ever-dangerous when passing through central areas of the pitch. The crowd sensed that the mounting pressure would offer more opportunities – and they were right.
In the 32nd minute a Barcelona pass out of midfield was intercepted. City played forward immediately on the counter. The ball fell to the feet of De Bruyne, who drove towards the goal. Two Barcelona defenders converged on the threat but De Bruyne had the composure to lay a neat pass off to Aguero who had loomed up, unmarked, in support. Aguero shot on goal from 12 yards and drove the ball into the back of the net to double City’s lead before half time.
With defenders converging, De Bruyne’s insightful pass finds Aguero unmarked and in space. The striker drove the ball past the keeper to make the score 2-0
Aguero’s second goal was a telling moment in the match. For over thirty minutes Barcelona had been subject to long periods without the ball and under mounting pressure. Cracks between their central pairing were beginning to show.
Barcelona came back onto the pitch for the second half with a new shape; forgoing their 4-3-3 for a 3-4-3 instead. The bolstering of their midfield in exchange for greater risk at the back was a clear sign that the Spanish team was not content to accept timid defeat.
Barcelona’s new strength in the middle of the park served to stifle City’s forward play, choking off attacks before they could develop into threats. At the other end of the park, Messi, Suarez and Neymar suddenly found themselves with touches on the ball in dangerous areas of the pitch.
In the 65th minute Suarez took it upon himself to manufacture a moment of genius. Picking up a through-ball, he skirted along the top of the penalty box as Messi appeared wide in support, drawing defenders. At the perfect moment, Suarez went alone – dribbling inside and beating off two challenges before slotting the ball past the City keeper from close range.
Top to bottom: Suarez begins his run into the box, taunting the City defense and evading a challenge.
Suarez drives deep towards the six-yard box in a mesmerizing run as Messi looms up in support. From close range Suarez fends off tacklers and slots the ball into the back of the net to make the score 2-1.
For the last twenty-five minutes, City worked hard to control possession and slow down play while a desperate Barcelona pressed high up the pitch. The structure for the Spanish team became disjointed and they were unable to keep hold of the ball while City did their best to run down the clock. Ultimately a 2-1 result was a fitting representation of the balance of possession each team enjoyed. If City had been able to make more of their early chances, the win could easily have been more emphatic.