MANCHESTER CITY 1 BARCELONA 2
MANCHESTER City boss Manuel Pellegrini refused to accept his side’s Champions League ambitions have been extinguished despite a Luis Suarez-inspired Barcelona seizing the initiative in their second round first-leg tie at the Etihad Stadium last night.
Talismanic £75m hitman Suarez fired Barcelona into a two-goal lead with a clinical double before Sergio Aguero replied in the second half, only for Gael Clichy to become the third City player in as many matches against Barcelona to be shown red.
City face the daunting prospect of needing to score at least two goals in Camp Nou to progress to the quarter-finals although that task could have been far more severe had keeper Joe Hart not saved Lionel Messi’s spot-kick in the final minute of injury-time.
“We have a chance,” said Pellegrini. “It is not the best result here at home but I hope we are going to try and do it at least in the way we normally play in Europe and perform well as a team.
“I think we play two different games in the first half and second half. We played very badly in the first half but in the second we did what we said before the game.
“We discount one goal but we repeat the same mistake as last year with a man sent off. Joe’s penalty save was possibly a very important save. It gives us more of a chance to win in Barcelona, 3-1 would be a very difficult score to try and address.”
Messi, Neymar and Suarez entered the showdown with 68 goals between them this season so it was no surprise that a key component of their attacking trident fired the Catalans into the lead on 16 minutes.
Ex-Liverpool forward Suarez scored his first-ever goal at the Etihad Stadium by rifling past Hart after his flick from Messi’s innocuous ball into the box rebounded into his path off unfortunate City skipper Vincent Kompany.
Barcelona’s dynamic forward line fired again on the half hour mark, Messi feeding the overlapping Jordi Alba after slicing open City’s defence, with the Spaniard’s cross turned home by a sliding Suarez from close range.
Rampaging full-back Dani Alves clipped the top of the bar moments before the break while a flurry of City half-chances at the start of the second period preceded striker Edin Dzeko guiding a point-blank header into the hands of Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
City produced a stunning comeback to defeat European heavyweights Bayern Munich in November and reignite their European tilt and once again it was Aguero who handed the hosts a lifeline by latching onto David Silva’s back-heel on 69 minutes and lashing past Ter Stegen.
But there was to be no grandstand finale after Clichy’s dismissal, while Messi’s penalty was saved by Hart following Pablo Zabaleta’s clumsy tackle on his fellow Argentine, with his diving header from the rebound implausibly drifting wide.