Last night Spanish giants Barcelona showed that they still have what it takes to compete with the best in Europe, as they defeated 10-man Manchester City 2-0 at the Etihad Stadium in the first leg of the last 16 of the Champions League.
Manchester City played for much of the second half with ten men, after Argentinian defender Martin Demichelis was shown a red card for bringing down compatriot Lionel Messi when he was through on-goal.
Inevitably the little superstar scored from the disputed spot-kick and Barcelona had a platform for a win.
In truth the ten men of Manchester City faired pretty well against the Spanish visitors and only succumb to the second Barca goal in the 90th minute. Neymar played in Brazilian international teammate Dani Alves and the full-back fired an effort through Joe Hart’s legs.
City’s performance showed that they have come a long way in recent seasons and had the Citizens kept their full complement may have presented a tougher challenge for the visitors, but in the end Barcelona deserved their win.
Putting aside the controversy over Barcelona’s first goal, the Catalan team put to bed a lot of the question marks over their character with this performance. They were up against one of the best opponents that European football had to offer and I felt they played beneath themselves.
It was almost as if Barca could have moved up a gear if they had to and scored that killer goal at any point, but waited until there was no way of City hitting back.
The current Barcelona team may not be the same one that was lauded under Pep Guardiola, but they have got back to playing the ‘Barcelona way’ though. For example we saw Xavi once again conducting the midfield, like he had found his conductors stick.
It was not quite class of 2010, or 2011, but it was Barcelona getting back to how they play best, with passing and high-pressing at the core of their game. Barcelona boss Tata Martino has spent too much time messing around with the style of play attempting to avoid another embarrassment like the Bayern humbling last season.
In truth, Barcelona’s reign at the top of the European game was never going to last, it is difficult for one team to dominate European football in this modern age of the game. The Barcelona of Pep Guardiola were a beautiful puzzle that nobody could crack, until Bayern came along and not only cracked the puzzle, but smashed it to pieces.
The mistake that Martino made was trying to change the style of the team, when that style is now routed in the clubs DNA. The next generation of Barca boys, such as Christian Tello, Sergi Roberto and Everton loanee Gerard Deulofeu have all been brought up on the Tiki-Taka style of football.
These are the sort of players that will eventually carry on the clubs methodology. If not that trio, another group of players will break through from the Barcelona youth ranks and continue to play the sort of football that Guardiola’s team mastered.
It seems that Tata Martino is finally getting to know what Barcelona is about. The Argentinian boss held a team meeting after the 3-2 home defeat to Valencia. The players, a lot of whom have been brought through the youth system at Barcelona, revealed they believed that going back to the ‘Tiki-Taka’ style was the way to go to move the team forward.
It is hard to argue with the return to the team’s old style, considering Barca has enjoyed four wins out of their last five games in all competitions since that meeting.
Manchester City has to go back to the drawing board and learn from these European experiences. One thing that City fans did not need to be told was that Martin Demichelis is not good enough for their team and is a weak link.
City has spent hundreds of millions trying to achieve dominance at home and abroad, but money does not always buy you success, especially in the Champions League. They need to gather Champions League experience as a club and use it to good effect in the future.
Manchester City may not even be the best team in England, never mind the world at the moment, so however harsh these lessons are to learn, they have to be learnt before City can class themselves as true contenders for the Champions League.
Despite doubts over some of their performances this season, Barcelona are still strong contenders for the Champions League trophy. With a 2-0 lead to take back to the Nou Camp it has to be said they have one foot in the quarter-finals.
The current Barcelona team may not be as all-conquering as Guardiola’s team, but they are still fantastic to watch at their best and have some of the world’s best players.
Martino’s team still contains a lot of the same players from the golden generation and you write them off at your peril, as the Catalan giants are now second favourites to win the Champions League at odds of 10/3.
I do not think Barcelona are past it just yet. With the team now playing football in their favourite style they will be difficult opponents for any of the other teams left in the competition.
Will Barcelona win the Champions League this season?