When Barcelona calmly dispatched Manchester City 4-0 a fortnight ago, not many people were surprised. That kind of score line has become a regular occurrence when Barca are involved.
How City responded to that result in the return fixture in Manchester would be an indication of how well ex-Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola was implementing his methods on the men from the North West. It proved to be a night to remember, and a potential springboard for City’s Champions League campaign.
Manchester City fans would’ve been forgiven for fearing the worst when first Raheem Sterling was denied a clear penalty (and booked for diving to add insult to injury), then Barcelona sprung a deadly counter-attack to take the lead just over ten minutes later. Messi to Neymar to Messi to the back of the net is not unheard of.
The response from City, however, was testament to how quickly Guardiola’s methods are working. Rather than letting their heads drop, City responded – and grabbed an equaliser before half time. A brilliant team goal demonstrated the awareness of the side; Sergio Aguero found Sterling in the box rather than attempting to shoot, and Sterling in turn had the awareness to lift his head and square a pass for Ilkay Gundogan, who had made a brilliantly-timed burst from midfield. The German midfielder was left with a tap-in from two yards out.
It was City’s second half performance that really highlighted Guardiola’s impact, however. They dominated from the off, with Raheem Sterling missing a sitter just two minutes from the restart. City controlled the tempo, and got a deserved second when Kevin De Bruyne thundered home a free kick from 25 yards on 51 minutes.
That prompted a bit of a revival from Barca, with Andre Gomes seeing his effort rebound off the crossbar, before Gundogan added his second with 16 minutes remaining. The German latched on to a loose ball after Jesus Navas’ cross bounced off Sergio Aguero and smashed home from seven yards, ensuring the victory for the English side.
It was a performance to remember for City, especially the second half. In previous seasons, City would’ve crumbled and rolled over to defeat; this side, however, are replicating the determination and belief of their manager on the pitch. Whilst Sergio Aguero is undoubtedly the jewel in the Manchester City crown, tonight demonstrated that they have other players capable of delivering the quality required in this competition. John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi did a good job of keeping Messi, Suarez and Neymar relatively quiet, whilst Ilkay Gundogan controlled the midfield and deservedly grabbed two goals. Raheem Sterling and David Silva both looked dangerous from wide positions, while Kevin De Bruyne again showcased his quality, pulling the strings and topping off his performance with a classy finish.
Yes, Barcelona were missing Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Andres Iniesta, and yes, that will have made City’s task easier. But they still had Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar leading the line. Manchester City’s response to going a goal down, their determination and belief, and their ability to see home the victory epitomised the way their manager sets his teams out to play. Guardiola’s methods are bearing fruit in Manchester already, and on the basis of this performance, they could have the beating of anyone in Europe.
All photos from UEFA Champions League Matchday Gallery.