City are the real specialists in failure
ROUND OF 16, 1ST LEG
MAN CITY 1
(Sergio Aguero 69)
(Luis Suarez 16, 30)
Ignore the close scoreline. Forget Sergio Aguero's consolation. Push aside Joe Hart's late penalty save.
This was a drubbing, a humiliating reminder of the chasm that exists between Manchester City and Europe's legitimate elite.
Manuel Pellegrini's side are not great pretenders to anything. They are not great. They can barely pretend.
Barcelona pulled back the curtain to reveal not men, but mice. A side filled with wealthy superstars hamstrung by an inferiority complex.
The world's richest club have lavished billions to become the Kardashians of continental football, displaying occasional flashes of hypnotic style with no sustainable substance. They are all dressed up with nowhere to go.
Jose Mourinho's sneering label was correct. But he picked the wrong club.
City are the real specialists in failure; an embarrassment of riches always richly embarrassed on the biggest stages.
Their greatest failure is that they truly do not believe, in either themselves or their manager.
The chip on the shoulder haunts them; the same chip on the shoulder that burdens lottery winners. Sudden, unearned wealth is no guarantee of respect. Real power comes with pedigree, which is never bought. It must be taken.
As the wily Scot in the flat cap watching in the executive seats pointed out, dynasties are defined in squeaky-bum moments.
Despite all the money thrown at both the dugout and the dressing room, City are filled with too many squeaky bums. They do not really believe that they belong at the top table - mostly because they don't.
Barring a miracle at the Nou Camp, the bumpkin billionaires will be bundled out of another Champions League and their manager will be relieved of his duties at the end of the season.
But Pellegrini could consider taking half his side with him.
City were outplayed in just about every position, including the dugout, by the dominant Catalan side. But, by their own admission, these Barcelona boys are not yet of a mature vintage.
The sight of Xavi Hernandez on the bench was a poignant reminder of what Barca once were and what they aspire to, but they are not yet there yet.
Against City, they didn't need to be. The imbalance of power was frightening.
Pellegrini promised a more adventurous line-up after last year's tame exit to the same opposition, but there's a clear line between adventurous and reckless.
It's called midfield. City didn't have one.
James Milner has long hankered for a central-midfield role, but a last-16 clash against Barcelona alongside the reliably unreliable Fernando was not a night to test the Englishman's faith.
Lionel Messi ferreted away from both of them for fun. Ably assisted by the ageless Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic, the Argentinian lost them all for a pivotal role in both goals.
Pellegrini's 4-4-2 approach gifted Messi a licence to kill. He dipped between the static lines to feed the voracious Luis Suarez.
English football's former pantomime bogeyman revelled in his villainous role at the Etihad Stadium. His explosive instincts underlined how quickly Vincent Kompany is regressing and how desperately the City skipper needs a reliable partner.
Still, the home's side tactical ineptitude defied belief.
Their schoolboy strategy of playing both Aguero and Edin Dzeko highlighted many things, none of them positive.
Dzeko again showed that his lumbering, physical prowess may suit the rough-and-tumble Premier League, but he looks awkward and isolated in the smarter, counter-attacking environment of the Champions League.
Without the extra body of someone like Fernandinho in midfield, Samir Nasri and David Silva's defensive shortcomings were ruthlessly exposed.
Jordi Alba and Dani Alves had the freedom of the flanks to bypass City's confused midfield to feed Messi and Neymar.
The suicidal strategy only underlined City's psychological shortcomings. They remain rabbits in the Champions League stadium lights, frequently overwhelmed by the big occasion.
And yet, they are the English champions, the best the Premier League has to offer. Princes at home, paupers in Europe, City have again made a mockery of the multi-billion-dollar industry masquerading as a superior football product.
The Middle-Eastern owners should check their receipts. It's time to trade in some of their lavish purchases.
Barcelona are not the side they were four years ago. Nor are Man City. But the gap between the clubs has actually got wider. That's the most damning indictment of all.
The world's richest club can pay off their Uefa Financial Fair Play fine, but they can't shake off their inferiority complex.
When the billionaires face real pedigree, they still look like paupers.
"I don’t think we have invested any more than Barca. They have also invested a lot of money. This tie isn’t over until the game ends in Barcelona. We can analyse it then."
- Man City manager Manuel Pellegrini, on whether his expensively assembled team are under pressure to prove themselves as a Champions League force
Pellegrini defiant despite defeat
MESSY: Lionel Messi’s penalty is saved by Joe Hart (top) and the rebound is headed wide by the Argentinian (above).
Manuel Pellegrini had no regrets about his team selection, even though Manchester City were completely outplayed by Barcelona in the first half of their Champions League match at the Etihad Stadium yesterday morning (Singapore time).
City were lucky to escape with a 2-1 defeat in the first leg of their last-16 tie, after they were taught a lesson in how to play with passion, flair and destruction during a 45-minute blitz in Manchester.
Luis Suarez scored twice on his return to England, Neymar missed a good chance to add a third and Dani Alves also rattled the bar, as the Spanish giants completely overran the English champions before the break.
Luckily for Pellegrini, Sergio Aguero pulled one back in the second half and Joe Hart saved a Lionel Messi penalty in injury time to give City a fighting chance of staying in the competition.
Pellegrini raised a few eyebrows by playing a 4-4-2 formation with Edin Dzeko up front alongside Aguero. Barcelona's three-man midfield dominated play from the centre of the park, but Pellegrini shrugged off suggestions he had handed the Spanish side the initiative because of the way his team lined up.
"No, I am very happy with the way we played," the City boss said, when asked if he regretted his team selection.
"It was the way we must play against Barcelona.
"They will always dominate in some parts of the game like the midfield."
Pellegrini still fancies his chances of beating Barca in the second leg next month to reach the quarter-finals.
"With the way we play, we can do it," the City boss said.
"It is important not to make the same mistakes. We cannot have a player sent off every game against Barcelona.
"But we have a chance. We must try to do it there.
"It is important for this team to continue in the Champions League as far as possible."
Messi looked extremely annoyed to have missed the penalty that would have made City huge underdogs to progress.
The Argentinian has been prolific for Barca this year, but he has a poor record from the penalty spot of late.
Messi has missed five of the last 10 penalties he has taken for club and country and has also failed to convert three spot-kicks in the Champions League.
When asked whether he would hand penalty-taking duties to another player, Barca coach Luis Enrique said: "No. We know penalties can be missed and he will take the next one.
"Tonight is a night to celebrate. All the first half was fantastic from every player.
"I can't complain about the attitude of the players." - PA Sport.
"They didn’t show intent. They showed naivety, because you can’t play Barcelona at their own game. You can’t go all guns blazing."
— Former Man City midfielder Dietmar Hamann, on the Citizens