Ped Into Europe Barcelona 2-1 City
Four thousand six hundred City fans announced themselves in the capital of Catalonia tonight as their heroes set about trying to recover a two-goal deficit in the Champions League at the Camp Nou.
With Pellegrini banned from touchline duties as a result of his outburst against a poor referee in the first leg, the relatively unknown Ruben Cousillas was holding the reins as the line-up out on the field had a safety-first-with-benefits look about it. Demichelis was thankfully suspended so there was to be no accidents tonight, or was that so? Lescott took up his place in the line alongside Captain Kompany bordered by the returning Zabaleta and the improving Kolarov.
Ahead of them predictably was Fernadinho and Yaya flanked by Milner and Nasri with Silva on "between the lines" duty, leaving an uncertain and clearly unfit Aguero to lead the line alone. With the former juggling, now Jolting Joe Hart restored to guard the pipes, this was a functional side set out to combat the dangers of one of the world`s best teams.
As the match got under way it was clear that City were more than capable of keeping Barca at bay. Holding a very high line, the azulgrana took a while to get into their stride and when they did Kompany showed his total world-class attributes. His cover play, tackle timing and leadership were not lacking tonight.
The five-man midfield might have looked a shade negative but the idea that Nasri and Silva could push ahead to link with Aguero added an air of positivity. It needed the Blues to be resolute and difficult against a side who can switch into overdrive at the drop of a hat.
If City were a touch too slow they tried to capitalise at each turn. City survived a penalty should and a goal ruled offside which the TV presenters said should have stood. They did of course miss the fact that Neymar stepped offside, onside , received the ball and scored. For me he came back from an offside position anyway so the flag worked for me.
The Pedmachine never likes to have a dig at referees, but Mr Lannoy looked more like Daniel Lanois as he was lenient in the two areas already mentioned but liberally booked City players, eliminating them one by one should City have progressed, without mirroring those decisions when the fouls were committed by Busquets, Iniesta and in particular the over-rated, one-paced ex-Stretford, Pique.
When you play against a team of this magnitude two things are vital. You need luck, you need to take your chances. City got the roll of the dice in the first half but when the chances arrived they simply couldn`t take them. Silva, Nasri and Zabaleta all spurned opportunities that could have opened the scoring and put pressure on the home team whose 95000 fans resembled the Ashburton Grove Library as City set about giving them a game.
Messi was initially starved of possession in dangerous areas and when the first chance came took to the turf to be denied a penalty kick when it looked a bit nailed on as Lescott trod on his toes. The Spanish Director lost it by his repeated showing of the tackle.
When Barca did get clear, they found Hart in exceptional form making a string of quality saves and showing the onlooking Roy Hodgson that he truly is back in business at the highest level.
But the chances not accepted came back to haunt the Blues. For 66 minutes they competently held the azulgrana at bay, despite having half to the team booked at the turf-munchers hit the deck at every opportunity. It was frustrating for City to once again be faced by a referee who lacked the bottle to deal with Barcelona, but found it easy to distribute yellow cards in the direction of City.
When the chance came, it of course fell to Messi. The ball was played into the City area, Lescott seemed to get the ball cannoning between his legs, it squirted clear to Messi and he doesn`t need asking twice.
It was a real disappointment for City and especially for Kompany and Hart, both of which had been majestic so far tonight.
The second half started with Aguero once again withdrawn with a hamstring threat, which alarms the Blue Mooners once again. The maligned Dzeko, even in these pages, took over and at once provided the midfielders with a target, in a way that Aguero previously had not. Chances came City`s way, one of which was a classy header from Dzeko which was definitely goalbound until the village-idiot, Valdez turned it over the bar.
Dzeko was actually involved in more or less everything that City were putting together in a way that he does not always put in in league and domestic cup matches. Indeed he was later quite clearly cut down by Pique who not only had one go at it but two, but still the French referee couldn`t get a major decision right as he turned down what was an easy decision to give. Finding himself surrounded by distraught City players, he decided to give Zaba a second yellow and flirt him from the action. This really was an absurd effort by Mr Lannoy and it really tuned things in favour of the home side.
With little time to go City scrambled an equaliser courtesy of Kompany. He sprang an offside trap and hounded the ball home to add some respectability to the night`s events. I think down to ten men and nothing going right viz-a-viz el arbitro, we would have settled for 1-1 on the night. But as proceedings were coming to a close the home side took advantage of City`s short-handedness and the man that made it all possible for Barcelona, Dani Alves, arrived late in the box and steered home for 2-1 on the night and 4-1 on aggregate, a scoreline which for me flattered Barcelona.
We have seen Pellegrini underestimate the Premier League`s poorer encampments this season and also Wigan last Sunday. The message from Champions League elimination is pretty much the same one we levelled at Mancini last season. City paid too much respect to the opposition once again. Mancini had the benefit of city being Champions but not detailing them to impose themselves on the opposition. Pellegrini, too displayed this when we played Barca at the Etihad. Tonight free of those shackles City, with a bit more luck in front of goal could have made them pay. They didn`t and they showed that if you take the one chance you get, the complexion of the match alters.
I was delighted with the commitment shown tonight. Kompany was a true leader and Hart was superb. Other members of the team had their wings clipped by a poor referee intent on making it Barca`s night by brandishing one-way yellow cards and then finally expelling Zabaleta. But truth be told apart from a poor penalty decision where he denied Messi, he gave City nothing all night and maybe there were two penalty decisions that went begging there. The one for Dzeko was an easy one to give and one for Silva a bit more difficult, but along with VK`s goal that would have made it 3-1 on the night and it would have been enough to see City progress.
Concentrating on the league when you have been eliminated from two cup competitions in four days is a bit of an issue, but the team need to rebound rapidly and work out a way of winning all of their games in hand, winning all of their other games as they come and exerting some kind of pressure on Chelsea . All things being equal it could once again be an incredible end to the season which has the likes of Tyler and Neville drooling on the final day.