Barcelona exude their supremacy in win over Manchester City
MANCHESTER, England -- Three quick thoughts on Barcelona's 2-1 win over Manchester City in Tuesday night's Champions League round of 16 first leg at the Etihad Stadium.
1. Barcelona exude supremacy
It was a night when Barcelona touched their best, but Manchester City never looked so far away. The gap between these teams seemed so much more distant than the Catalans' 2-1 winning margin, and it's hard not to think the tie is over.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini got his tactics badly wrong, and City will have to fix more than that to just get up to Barca's brilliant level, let alone start scoring the two goals at Camp Nou they need to actually rescue this tie. That looks some way off, and could have been worse were it not for Lionel Messi's late penalty miss.
Luis Suarez scored two first-half goals to confirm Barca's clear superiority and, although Sergio Aguero struck a beauty of his own on 69 minutes, any energy derived from the thrust of the finish and the zest of his celebration was quickly extinguished by Gael Clichy's foolish 74th-minute yellow card.
The full-back stupidly kicked out at Dani Alves when on a yellow card, but his manager didn't exactly make the cleverest decisions, either.
City ceded so much space to Barca but it was still the type of night when you got the feeling the Catalans would have caused them problems no matter what system was in front of them. Almost all of their main stars were playing close to maximum, not least the resurgent Suarez.
He took advantage of yet another high-profile Vincent Kompany slip to wallop the opening goal past Joe Hart on 16 minutes. He then finished off a supreme team move on the half-hour, as Barca just weaved their way through City so easily.
The nature of that move and finish seemed like Suarez's final integration into this team, and it was up there with anything they've produced over the past few weeks as well as -- murmur it -- the past few years.
If Luis Enrique's Barcelona are obviously nowhere near the historic level of Pep Guardiola's team, this first-half display was at least as exceptional in terms of excess of quality -- if not necessarily in style -- as anything we saw between 2008 and 2012.
In fact, it was reminiscent of the opening 45 minutes of their quarterfinal first leg against Arsenal in early 2010. Another example of English opposition that couldn't come close.
That was reflected in how they were forced into the type of foul on Messi that brought his stoppage-time penalty. Joe Hart may have stopped it, but City are unlikely to stop Barca going through.
2. City get it wrong in Europe -- again
As Suarez rattled in the opening goal, there was a particularly pained reaction from Manuel Pellegrini, and it seemed like it was down to so much more than just conceding an early away goal.
For one, the Chilean rarely reacts to even the biggest of goals. Secondly, there was a look of realisation.
It was as if it had dawned on him that he had got so much of this wrong.
Pellegrini had opted for a surprising 4-4-2, which is commonly seen as exactly the wrong system to play against Barca's possession. But the notional idea behind it was that City might draw benefit from Edin Dzeko's height troubling the supposed aerial weakness of Luis Enrique's back line.
In the event, Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano so easily headed away every cross, while the home side made life all the more difficult for themselves by granting Barca the entirety of the midfield and so much more.
As an example even beyond Suarez and Messi cutting through their defence, there can't have been too many games where Sergio Busquets has had to do so little defending and was left so relaxed.
From there, Barca built every move.
The worst aspect for City beyond leaders like Kompany so badly under-performing was that it also left them with the ultimate crux, and revealed how little they'd learned from previous such dilemmas.
During this tie last season, Pellegrini actually got it right by playing defensive, until one poor move undid all that for Barca to go ahead. This time, the manager tried to superficially prove that City had evolved since then by going toe-to-toe with Barcelona, only to be towered over.
Far from giving them the initiative, that approach granted the Catalans what seemed an insurmountable lead, and they now needed to grab goals but couldn't exactly go more proactive.
It said much that Pellegrini brought on Fernandinho in the second half. It was almost an admission of error, but only after the truly clinical mistakes had been made.
City then got their goal through some typically brilliant play on the ground, as David Silva divinely flicked through for Aguero to fire past Marc-Andre ter Stegen, further indicating the folly of their approach.
Samir Nasri said on the eve of this game that this match could be a "big step." It was. City were trampled over.
3. This was vintage Barcelona
The perfect response from Luis Enrique, and close to the perfect first half from his team. After so much furore after another setback in La Liga, followed by the story about the players' night out in a casino, this was a performance in which Barcelona ensured all the odds were stacked in their favour thanks to the full-house nature of their play. All the aces, ahem, were high.
They rolled over City. It was also the type of display to really start banishing the ongoing questions about the manager's suitability to the job -- but not completely, at least not until they really start delivering.
This was still some statement. All of Suarez, Andres Iniesta, Ivan Rakitic and the exquisite Messi were on song, creating so much so excellently. It was incongruous that the Argentine hit such a poor penalty, because every other touch had been so clean, as if hermetically sealed.
All of those players combined gloriously for the sensational second goal, with Rakitic's drive releasing Messi, whose typically brilliant run released Alba to set up Suarez.
So fluid, so fantastic.
Ironically, it is the very level the players were operating at that still leaves questions about Luis Enrique, precisely because it has not yet been completely consistent. It still feels as if Barcelona are a little too dependent on their stars coming together by coincidence, rather than as part of some grand plan.
There were elements of this in the second half as they lost their way a little bit, got sloppy and let City back into it. Then again, that might just be the consequence of a team that was so comfortable and so far ahead.
It says much about the level of the display that this alone is what is being discussed. Certainly, on a night like this, Luis Enrique looked much less of a gamble.
Miguel Delaney covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MiguelDelaney.