Majestic City show Champions League intent
Impressive win over Barca shows Citizens at a higher level under Pep
MAN CITY 3
(Ilkay Guendogan 39, 74, Kevin de Bruyne 51)
(Lionel Messi 21)
Never has the Etihad Stadium witnessed a European night as spectacular as this.
Manchester City, finally, cut down mighty Barcelona, at the sixth time of asking.
Their emphatic 3-1 victory yesterday morning (Singapore time) over the planet's best football team, as City manager Pep Guardiola put it, drew effusive praise from all quarters.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. PHOTO: REUTERS
City have finally arrived on the continental stage was the common theme.
The euphoria that engulfed the blue half of Manchester following the win over a side boasting the otherworldly menace of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar was understandable.
Not only were Barcelona beaten, they were also comprehensively outplayed at pretty much their own game.
That City showed the resolve and tenacity to fight back from going down to a Messi goal in the 21st minute was a display of fortitude previously lacking under the Manuel Pellegrini and Roberto Mancini regimes.
There is not yet a seismic shift in football's world order, but the rumblings can be heard.
This was more than a statement of intent.
This was evidence that City have got what it takes to go all the way on the grandest European stage.
The Citizens, so sharp in the final third and cohesive as a unit, proved they are capable of beating any team.
In the two-legged knock-out format that follows the opening group stage, City will instil fear in any opponent in the Champions League.
In Kevin de Bruyne, they have one of the most sublime attackers in the world.
After Ilkay Guendogan had equalised for the hosts following a defensive error by Barcelona, the 25-year-old Belgian ran the show.
He popped up with a superb free-kick in the 51st minute to put his team in front, then supplied the majestic through-pass to split Barcelona's defence in the build-up to Guendogan's second goal in the 74th minute.
City pressed high, choked Barcelona at the base of their midfield and hit them hard on the counter attack.
They probably played more long balls than Guardiola would have liked, but as he himself admitted, they are still a work in progress.
The sight of Argentine striker Sergio Aguero running his socks off at the tip of a 4-1-4-1 system sent the clearest message.
Two weeks ago, he was dropped to the bench at the Nou Camp.
That omission drew the exact response Guardiola had hoped for, as Aguero's intensive all-round game set the tone for the rest to follow in Manchester.
At times, City were breathtaking.
That they could produce a performance as superb as this a fortnight after losing 4-0 to the same opponents showed the composure in the camp.
Guardiola's mastery of the Champions League - he has won the competition twice during four years with Barcelona - has clearly had its effect on a team previously short on belief when lining up against Europe's best.
Their path to the knock-out stage is not yet clear, with Barcelona still top of Group C.
Up next for City is a tricky away fixture against Borussia Moenchengladbach, who are only three points behind them, followed by a home tie with Celtic to finish off the group phase.
With an expected challenge on the Premier League front to run concurrently, the fixture pile-up in the second half of the season will test their stamina and drive further.
However, hot Brazilian striking prospect Gabriel Jesus is set to arrive in January to boost their ranks, and given City's ambition and wealth, who knows who else will come during the mid-season transfer window.
Guardiola spoke of the win as a benchmark for City, and as a declaration that they can now match the best.
The transformation from perennial underachievers to genuine contenders under him has been swift, but perhaps not unexpected.
It has taken City six straight years of Champions League football to find their feet among the European elite.
They now dare to dream that it will take shorter than that to ascend the throne.
Enrique: Barca will bounce back after setback
Barcelona will not be knocked off course by their 3-1 defeat at Manchester City in the Champions League, despite being outplayed in the second half by Pep Guardiola's fired-up side, the Catalan club's manager Luis Enrique said.
The Spanish champions are second in La Liga, two points behind arch rivals Real Madrid and face a testing game on Sunday at high-flying Sevilla, who are a point behind them.
But Enrique (above) declared they would not dwell on the City defeat.
"We have to get up and keep going. We never sit back when we win and we don't sink when we lose. Defeats are everyone's responsibility, above all the coach's, and we're going to keep getting better," he said.
Barca suffered scathing criticism from the Catalan press for their collapse at the Etihad Stadium, with the daily Sport declaring that "Barca got themselves into a twist" and "threw away a game that was half won, overpowered by City's intensity".
Mundo Deportivo, meanwhile, likened Barca's surrender in the second half, after they took an early lead, to a power cut.
Enrique emphasised Barca's domination of City for most of the first period, in which Lionel Messi scored, but conceded that they never recovered from Sergi Roberto's misplaced pass which allowed Ilkay Guendogan to level before the break.
"This is how it is, this isn't a drinks machine where you hit a button and a can of Coke comes out. If anyone turned their TV off after 40 minutes they wouldn't have believed we lost the game," the Barca boss said.
"We played scandalously well for 40 minutes but we committed a huge error that really harmed us. It was 40 minutes for us, 50 for them, and the result reflects how the game went. In games like this you always pay for your errors."
Striker Luis Suarez added: "We're aware of how well we played in the first half but... we have to be self critical because we did not play well in the second half. Now we have to forget about the Champions League and think about Sevilla."