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article imageMagical Messi mesmerizes Manchester City at the Camp Nou

By Tyrrell Meertins     Mar 12, 2014 in Sports
Poor refereeing decisions denied Barcelona a potential two-goal lead in the first half, but Lionel Messi's second half goal ensured the Catalan side advanced to the last eight of the Champions League.
Although, Barcelona’s performances have been relatively poor in 2014, Messi reminded the world that he’s still capable of winning a match on his own.
Gerardo Martino fielded his best set of individuals in his starting line up, as he encouraged his side to dominate the midfield. Manuel Pellegrini –– who was serving a touchline ban –– welcomed Sergio Aguero into his XI, while James Milner, Samir Nasri, and Joleon Lescott were also introduced.
City started the match well, pressing Martino’s men into their third, while Vincent Kompany and Lescott proactively intercepted passes. Messi and Neymar were often pressed when they received the ball around the half-way line, but as the half progressed, they intelligently drifted into pockets of space towards the right to receive the ball.
Similar to the first leg, David Silva remained City’s best player, as he constantly drifted between the lines to receive the ball and link play in wide areas. Here, City aimed to get their full-backs forward, and with Nasri drifting centrally, Sergio Busquets struggled to track both City players. The duo combined towards the latter stages of the match when Yaya Toure’s chipped ball into the box met Silva’s run, and the Spaniard’s reverse back-heeled pass fell towards Nasri, who fired his shot directly at Victor Valdes.
And while Pablo Zabaleta failed to push into advanced positions, Aleksandar Kolarov served as an attacking threat down the left flank. City’s left-side has proved to be an efficient source of creativity this season, and here Silva constantly drifted to the left flank to create overloads. Along with a chance in the first half which Milner guided wide, Silva and Kolarov combined on two occasions which nearly handed Pellegrini’s side the lead. Edin Dzeko’s header from a Kolarov cross forced Valdes to make an acrobatic save, and minutes later the duo combined, thus leading to Pique failing to clear the Serbian’s cross –– the ball fell to Zabaleta who flashed his shot inches wide.
Barcelona’s performance, on the other hand, was casual rather than breathtaking. This could’ve been down to the two away goals they obtained in the first leg, but for the umpteenth time this season, Martino’s approach was questionable. Barcelona monopolized possession for lengthy periods, but besides Messi’s runs from deep, the Catalan side created few chances.
The lack of a direct threat upfront was evident as City’s high-line was feeble, and the inclusion of Pedro or Alexis Sanchez would be logical, as they’re likely to make runs behind the defence. Neymar’s sub-par defensive work ethic was expected, but Martino’s role for the Brazilian limited his influence on the match. Yet, when Neymar attempted to run behind City’s back line, the 22-year-old posed various problems. His run behind Kolarov to meet an Iniesta long-ball played the Brazilian free on goal, but Joe Hart saved his near-post shot. In the latter stages of the first half, Messi superbly evaded three City challenges before sliding a well-weighed ball towards Neymar, but Fernandinho cleared his effort of the line.
Still, despite City’s improved display subsequent to Dzeko’s arrival –– which should’ve earned them a penalty for Pique’s foul on the Bosnian –– the away side couldn’t negate Messi’s influence on the match. The Argentine was behind majority of Barcelona’s best moves: he created two brilliant opportunities for Xavi, and he solemnly drifted past Lescott, thus placing a shot off the post.
Messi was the X-factor. When Barcelona attacked he was remarkable, and his willingness to chase down fellow compatriot Sergio Aguero to win possession, exemplified his overall performance. City couldn’t cope with Messi's runs from deep –– he created countless opportunities for his teammates, and in the 67th minute, he confirmed Barcelona’s progression to the quarter-finals. Fabregas’s attempt to play in Messi was blocked by Lescott, but the ball fortuitously ricocheted off the City centre back, and fell into the path of the Argentine, who calmly placed his shot past Hart.
The final 20 minutes was monotonous. Messi had stamped his authority on another Champions League match –– the Argentine has scored eight goals in his five appearances this season, and trimmed the gap between himself and all-time Champions League goal-scorer Raul to four, as he recorded his 67th goal. Crisis? Decline? Messi cold-heartedly silenced the cynics.
Lack of belief and a practical approach hindered City’s chances of winning the tie, as the need of a top-class defensive midfielder and centre back at the Etihad is now evident.
“Tonight they came to try and turn the situation around while we didn't allow ourselves to feel comfortable in spite of our advantage. We suffered at times; it was predictable that City would have the ball at certain points,” Martino said.
However, over two legs, Martino hasn’t displayed any proof of progress within the Catalan side. Barcelona, though, are still a great side –– one that doesn’t possess leadership or swagger. Messi remains the catalyst at the Camp Nou, but his presence may not be enough to regain European supremacy –– but for the night, a city, and a fan base can rest peacefully.
More about Messi, Lionel messi, Barcelona, Manchester city, Camp Nou
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