Barcelona's Lionel Messi (2nd L) jumps over Manchester City's Yaya Toure during the UEFA Champions League Last 16, first leg football match at The Etihad Stadium in Manchester. (AFP Photo)
Barcelona dismissed any notion they are a declining force when they won 2-0 at Manchester City on Tuesday to virtually guarantee their place in the quarterfinals of the Champions League for the seventh successive season.
A match billed as a possible turning point in Manchester City’s history following their glitzy cash-laden rebirth fuelled by Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mansour’s heavy investment, ended in a comprehensive Barcelona win.
Barca, top of La Liga and in the Spanish Cup final, now look set to advance and make a mockery of the words of Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, who said before the match: "This is the worst Barcelona team for many, many years, so City have a chance."
However, this is City’s best team for many years too but it looks like that chance has already slipped. While the second leg at the Camp Nou on March 12 is not entirely a formality, City will have to overcome considerable odds, as well as the weight of competition history if they are to keep alive any dream of winning four trophies this season.
Since they first met English opposition in European competition in 1960, Barcelona have lost only two of 27 home matches with Liverpool winning both of them: A UEFA Cup match in 1976 and a Champions League Round of 16 game in 2007. And only twice since the Champions League began 22 years ago has a side progressed after a home first leg defeat, a rare feat at the best of times and one City are likely to have to attempt without their coach Manuel Pellegrini on the bench.
The normally taciturn Chilean launched an astonishing verbal attack on referee Jonas Eriksson after the game, questioning his impartiality and accusing the Swedish official of deciding the outcome of the game.
City went behind when Eriksson awarded a penalty to Barcelona in the 53rd minute for a foul by Martin Demichelis on fellow Argentine Lionel Messi that appeared to initially take place outside the area. Eriksson immediately dismissed Demichelis, leaving City with 10 men as Messi scored from the spot before Dani Alves added the second in the 90th minute.
Angry about the penalty and frustrated by conceding a second late goal, Pellegrini said, among other things: "I spoke to the referee at the end and told him he should be very happy because he decided the match.
"The referee was not impartial. He did not have any control of the game. I think it was not a good idea to have a referee from Sweden in such an important match. More important football is played in Europe than in Sweden so a big game with two important teams — that kind of game needs a referee with more experience."
Eriksson, however, was refereeing his 22nd Champions League match, officiated at Euro 2012, is on the list for this year’s World Cup in Brazil and has been a Fifa referee since 2002. Of more immediate concern to Pellegrini, rather than where he watches the game from, will be to devise a way City can turn this tie around after conceding two goals at home without scoring themselves. One blessing in disguise is that he will not be able to play Demichelis because the defender will be banned for the second leg.