For the first time in the 2016-17 edition of the Champions League Barcelona were defeated. They lost the game against Manchester City even though Lionel Messi put the Catalans in the lead midway through the first half. But numerous errors defensively and in possession allowed the hosts back into the game and into the driver’s seat.
The game started in very similar fashion to when the two teams met two weeks ago, with Manchester City pressing high up the pitch and Barcelona having to patiently and carefully play the ball from the back past numerous City attackers. It was an expected start to the game in which, as City manager Pep Guardiola said, the hosts were in a much bigger need for a win than the visitors were.
Even though both teams were looking to create chances through different tactics, neither side managed to create much noteworthy in the opening 10 minutes. But immediately after the 10 minute mark the hosts threatened with Sergio Aguero charging down the right side before passing the ball to the middle where Raheem Sterling picked the ball up. In the penalty area he was challenged by Samuel Umtiti and after contact Sterling went down immediately, claiming a penalty kick, but referee Viktor Kassai without hesitation showed the England forward a yellow card.
Barcelona pulled back a bit after that incident, allowing City some more time on the ball. It was as if the Catalans were baiting the hosts to open up their ranks. The hosts couldn’t create a whole lot in attack until the 21st minute when a poor clearance allowed City some extended time in the Barcelona area. The end result of their threat were two blocked shots on Pablo Zabaleta and Aguero. From the second block the ball fell to the feet of Messi who immediately started a counter attack with a long pass to Neymar. Against a short-handed defense Neymar won acres of space and then found Messi on the very edge of the City area. With no defender in sight Messi had a wide open lane to Willy Caballero and he calmly slotted the ball past the goalkeeper and inside of the post for the lead.
The hosts tried to turn on the pressure, but apart from a long-range effort from Ilkay Gundogan the Manchester-side couldn’t create. Barcelona however, were stepping up their play and were looking to add to their lead. In the 28th minute, Neymar was sent on another counter, this time by Andre Gomes, but his rising bad-angle shot was just tipped wide by the fingertips of Caballero. Seven minutes later Barcelona again came close to doubling their lead. First, Gomes’ powerful shot was blocked, but moments later Messi sent a high cross from the left side to a wide open Luis Suarez, but the cross was just too high and the Uruguayan couldn’t direct the header on goal.
Barcelona seemed to be picking up the pace while City were barely hanging on. But that all changed in the 39th minute. As they have done so many times before, Barcelona were looking to play the ball out of the defense under pressure. This time, however, it didn’t go according to plan as Sergi Roberto’s ball to the middle was inaccurate and missed its intended target, resulting in an easy attack for the hosts. Sterling sent the ball in front from the right side to a wide open Gundogan in the middle who was left with a simple finish to tie the game at one.
Barcelona were shell shocked and couldn’t recover, while City were looking to feast and take a lead into halftime break despite showing were little in the opening 45 minutes – unless Barcelona allowed them to. They did so again two minutes after allowing the goal, and again it was Roberto who turned the ball over. David Silva led the City counter and found Fernandinho in a good spot for the shot, but the Brazilian’s low shot went just wide of the far post.
Barcelona were clearly struggling since allowing the goal and the halftime whistle couldn’t come soon enough for the Catalans.
Nothing appeared to change though in the early minutes of the second half as City continued with their good attacking display from the later stages of the first half. The host’s first chance again came after a Barcelona turnover, but Sterling was unable to find the target. Moments later Aguero also missed the goal.
City’s pressure continued while Barcelona continued to struggle to get the ball out of their own area, and with the hosts improving from one minute to the other it was just a matter of time before Barcelona would concede for a second time. And that moment came in the 51st minute after Sergio Busquets committed an avoidable foul 25 yards from goal for an excellent chance. Kevin De Bruyne fired the kick, Marc-Andre ter Stegen made a step to his right, while the kick was going to his left and that was all the Belgian’s kick needed to find the back of the net.
City were flying high and with the Catalans continuing to commit numerous errors it was difficult to imagine a turnaround. Especially concerning was the 10-minute stretch by Busquets in which he committed three avoidable fouls, one of which led to a goal while another one led to a just missed scoring chance.
Desperately needing new ideas on the pitch, Luis Enrique looked to his bench and in the 61st minute made his first substitution, replacing Ivan Rakitić with Arda Turan. At the time of that substitution Barcelona were still without a single shot in the half, while City already had four. But the hosts would be the first team to threaten after that change, but neither De Bruyne nor Aguero were able to tip in Silva’s excellent low cross.
Barcelona threatened for the first time in the second half in the 65th minute. An errant John Stones back-pass was intercepted by Suarez who wasted no time in turning toward goal. In his path he beautifully dribbled past Nicolas Otamendi and then found Gomes on the very edge of the area. Gomes fired first time, Caballero was beaten, but the crossbar wouldn’t allow a goal. The back and forth action continued with a City counter, this time with De Bruyne just missing the target.
Needing a goal Barcelona continued to attack, but that exposed the already exposed defense even more. And City made Barcelona pay in the 73rd minute from a Barcelona corner kick. Aguero muscled the ball away from Messi on the edge of the City penalty box and the Citizens quickly went on the counter. With few players defending, the hosts quickly reached the Barcelona box where, from the right side, Silva sent the killer ball into the middle to Aguero. Aguero overran the ball and it ricochet off of his arm, which was tucked to his body, back to Gundogan who had no trouble completing his brace and effectively putting the game out of reach.
Moments later Lucho made his second change, taking off Gomes and replacing him with Rafinha. With the healthy lead now in hand, City were happy to take on a more defensive stance, allowing Barcelona to get into the opposing half, but making a trip into the penalty area nearly impossible. Even though Barcelona launched a couple good attacks in the time remaining, they couldn’t change the score. Barcelona remain in first place in group C with nine points, but their lead over Manchester City has shrunk to two points. Borussia Mönchengladbach is a distant third with four points while Celtic sit another two points back.