“Of course, they have Lionel Messi — he is special — and they have more than him. But I think this is the worst Barcelona of many, many years.”
The master of mind games is at it again, and these were the words spoken by Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho prior to the Champions League Round of 16 match between Manchester City and Barcelona on Tuesday. With both teams eyeing a spot in the quarter finals, a mouth-watering tie between two of Europe’s most exciting teams was expected at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester.
With the Champions League finally returning after a month long hiatus, millions of fans were glued to their televisions to watch free-scoring Manchester City test their mettle against a “weak” Barcelona side. But in all honesty, it was a rather dull game.
Fatigue seemed to play a major factor in City’s 2-0 loss, and it surely wasn’t the end-to-end affair that many expected it to be. Sure, the game was fast paced and technical, but there was a real lack of drive from both sides throughout, and it definitely wasn’t one that will stick in the memory.
Possibly still hung over from their FA Cup fifth round win over Chelsea on the weekend, City had a beleaguered look about them, and it certainly didn’t help that players like Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets were content to pass to death. This isn’t the first time a big game has failed to live up to expectations, and the Spaniards now have one foot in the quarterfinals with two crucial away goals.
Both sides had a handful of decent chances in the first half, but never really looked like making the breakthrough. Barcelona’s Xavi tested Joe Hart with a long-range drive that was handled well by the English international, and Barca goalkeeper Victor Valdes somehow came out unscathed after a goalmouth scramble toward the end of the first half.
The match was fairly even until the 56th minute, when defender Martin Demichelis livened things up after he received a straight red card for a mistimed slide tackle on Messi. City may have been unlucky though, as replays show Messi may not have crossed the line. Despite the dubious call, Messi did his work from the penalty spot, putting City down a goal and a man with over half an hour left.
Brazilian Dani Alves sealed the match for the Catalans right at the death, taking a pass from Neymar and sliding the ball past a stranded Hart from 12 yards. It was probably a little harsh on City, but with a man down, it was only a matter of time until Barca put their numerical advantage to use.
For City, it’s another case of underachieving on the biggest stage, and they will have to put on quite the show in Barcelona if they want to overturn the two-goal deficit. Stranger things have happened in soccer, however, and the magic of the Champions League is that anything can happen at any time.