Throughout June on Typical City, we’re looking at some of the best matches Manchester City have played in the Sheikh Mansour-era. Day by day, we’re taking a trip down memory lane to some of the classic encounters the Blues have had since the 2008 takeover – you can view the rest of the featured games on the Best of the Mansour Era page.
Games against Barcelona haven’t been fun for Manchester City fans. However, following a 4-0 embarrassment at the Nou Camp in the 2016-17 Champions League, the Blues got one over their opponents in the return game at the Etihad. It meant nothing for their chances of winning the group, but it gave them a healthy position going into the final two games…
Manchester City 3-1 Barcelona
Tuesday 1 November 2016
City: Caballero, Zabaleta, Otamendi, Stones, Kolarov, Fernandinho (Fernando 60), Sterling (Navas 71), Gundogan, Silva, De Bruyne (Nolito 89), Aguero.
Unused: Gunn, Kompany, Clichy, Iheanacho
Goals: Gundogan (39, 74), De Bruyne (51)
It had been a sobering experience at the Nou Camp in October 2016. Despite having high hopes that Pep Guardiola could almost instantaneously change Manchester City into one of the most competitive outfits in the world, and despite an excellent start to the season that will still only just coming undone, City were shown up in Barcelona. It had all been going fine, but for one error that had allowed Lionel Messi in to score in the first half. But after Claudio Bravo was sent off for a stupid handball, it was curtains – and it ended 4-0 to the Catalan giants.
It was almost a reminder to City fans that there’s a long way still to go before the club is up there with the best of the best, and it left a lot heading home with their tails between their legs.
The first match of November – and the very next fixture in the Champions League – offered an opportunity for City to put that result right. Guardiola had faced questions in the week leading up to the match over Sergio Aguero, a player whose future would consistently make the headlines during the manager’s first season. It had all come because the striker had been left out of the line-up in Spain, and many wondered if Guardiola would use the same tactic to try and get the better of his opposition on home soil.
By 6.45pm, and the announcement of the team to face Barcelona, it was clear that he wouldn’t. He had something else up his sleeve – and the fans heading to the Etihad Stadium that night couldn’t have expected it to have worked so well.
In Barcelona, Guardiola had tried to cut off the supply to the home side’s front three. Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar barely got a kick of the ball when it was 11 against 11 in the Nou Camp, the hosts only opening the scoring because Fernandinho slipped when attempting to clear a ball in the box. It was the red card that caused it all to fall apart.
In Manchester, Guardiola pressed his former club – in a manner they probably weren’t used to. It took some time for the system to get going, time enough for Messi to again open the scoring, but by the end the Blues were by far and away the deserved winners.
It was an opening half hour to forget. It looked like it was going to be “one of those nights”, especially when Raheem Sterling was clearly tripped inside the box by Samuel Umtiti and the referee – who was right up with play and looking straight at the incident – decided to book the winger for diving. He was incredulous, and it was understandable.
There were 20 minutes on the clock when the City fans began to fear the worst. It seemed to be the same old story, especially in the Champions League – on the big occasion, their side were looking like they were about to roll over. Messi fed the ball wide to Neymar and, after the Brazilian had carried it down the left flank, he received it back to step inside Kevin De Bruyne and roll it past Willy Caballero into the bottom corner. It was a classic breakaway goal, but again City appeared to be choking.
City were flagging. Caballero pulled off a great save to push a Neymar effort behind for a corner, before a free kick into the middle was cleared only as far as Andre Gomes – but his shot was well blocked by John Stones. The ball was immediately returned to Messi on the left and his volleyed cross found Suarez, but it was slightly too high and the striker could only head it wide with the goal gaping. The home side were hanging on by the skin of their teeth.
It meant that, when City did level the score on 39 minutes, it was somewhat against the run of play. It was all down to the hard work of City’s attacking players, pressurising the Barcelona defence in possession. David Silva and De Bruyne both pushed up high on the left flank and it led to a loose pass falling straight into the path of Aguero. He slipped it into the run of Sterling, who had fans foaming at the mouth because he turned down the shot from a great position – but it was only because Ilkay Gundogan was better placed to rifle the ball home. He did.
A minute later, it was City’s turn to miss a sitter. It should have been 2-0 when Fernandinho and Silva combined on the break, teeing up a chance for the Brazilian to fire a low effort towards the back post. It was just wide and Aguero, in the middle of the box, couldn’t quite stretch enough to stab it past Marc-Andre Ter Stegen in the Barcelona goal.
The Blues did get themselves in front after the break. A free kick to the left of centre outside the box was powered towards the top corner by De Bruyne. The goalkeeper may have felt disappointed not to have stopped it, but it was travelling from the Belgian’s right boot – and from 1-0 down, City were 2-1 up early in the second half.
The home side had really stepped up their game and Barcelona couldn’t cope. “I think they’ve got Barcelona on the ropes,” Owen Hargreaves said on the BT Sport commentary – and he was right. Aguero missed a header from a left wing free kick that looked like it may have flashed into the goal, before a low cross from Aleksandar Kolarov was missed by both De Bruyne and Aguero, who was both racing into the area in an attempt to get a final touch. The Belgian also curled a shot around Ter Stegen, but it missed the post by inches, too.
With just over an hour played, City almost gave their opposition a gift. Stones – who had been harrying and hustling the Barcelona attack brilliantly – won back possession just over the halfway line. However, in trying to find a teammate, he presented it straight to Suarez on the break. The striker skipped past Nicolas Otamendi’s attempted tackle and laid it off to Gomes – but the effort crashed into Caballero’s crossbar and away. It was a let off.
However, City made the game safe with 15 minutes to play. It was a great counter attack, led by De Bruyne. He slotted a pass through to Jesus Navas, on for Sterling, and the winger’s low ball into the middle should have been converted by Aguero. The striker had been brilliant all evening and deserved to get on the scoresheet – but the ball hit him and went backwards, with the goal at his mercy. Following up, though, Gundogan smashed the rebound into the net.
Afterwards, Guardiola was very impressed with both the result and the performance: “They had an amazing 30 minutes, we had a lot of problems but our first goal helped us a lot. In the second half we created a lot of counter attacks. I am so happy for the guys, it is the first time we have beaten the best team in the world. Today is a good step. We play against a great team and we compete. Now they will realise, ‘Wow, we won against the best team’.”
Written by David Mooney
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