First half brace from Luis Suárez gave Barcelona a 2-1 victory overManchester City in the first leg of their Champions League Round of 16 tie. Sergio Agüero pulled a goal back in the second half, but a red card to Gael Clichy with 14 minutes to play ended what momentum the home side had built up. A penalty save by Joe Hart on Lionel Messi in the final minute of stoppage time kept City in the tie, heading into the return leg in March.
There was something fitting about Luis Suárez being the man to give Barcelona a 1-0 lead in the 16th minute. Considering how maligned the striker is among the English press, having him provide a crucial away goal for the Spanish side was only right. He was a bit lucky to get the chance as the ball took a favorable bounce off Vincent Kompany, falling back right in front of Suárez who hammered a low shot past Joe Hart.
The Suárez show continued in the 30th minute when the Uruguayan striker netted hi second goal of the game, finishing off a short cross from Jordi Alba with a sliding finish in front of goal. How Suárez was allowed to waltz through multiple City defenders will never be known, but the precision of the pass from Alba and the run/touch from Suárez probably would’ve troubled nearly any defense.
It was a rotten first half for City, but things would go better for them in the second 45 minutes … at least for awhile.
Eden Džeko had a glorious opportunity to turn things around for City early in the second half, getting free in the penalty area six-yards from Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Dźeko’s header went right at the Barca goalkeeper, pretty much the only place he could’ve directed the ball and not score.
Finally in the 69th minute, Sergio Agüero, a man know for scoring massively important goals for his team, pulled a goal back for City when he out hustled the Barca defense to get on a loose ball in the box. The striker beat Javier Mascherano to the ball at the top of the area, skipped it forward with a deft touch, before placing it past Ter Stegen.
All the momentum that City had built up was shattered in the 74th minute when Gael Clichy picked-up his second yellow card f the match, leaving City to play the final 17 minutes a man down.
In the 93rd minute, Pablo Zabaleta committed an astoundingly unnecessary foul on Lionel Messi, giving Barca a last minute penalty. Messi stepped up to the spot to expand the lead, but Hart denied his penalty attempt, blocking it right back out to Messi. His diving header on the rebound towards an empty net went way wide, leaving City within a goal heading into the second leg as the final whistle blew.
Will that miss by Messi come back to haunt the Blaugrana? We’ll find out in a couple weeks.
Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy (red card 74′), Fernando, Milner, Nasri (Fernandinho 62′), Silva (Sagna 78′), Dzeko (Bony 68′), Agüero
Goals: Agüero (69′)
Barcelona: Ter Stegen, Alves (Adriano 75′), Piqué, Mascherano, Alba, Busquets, Rakitić (Mathieu 71′), Iniesta, Suárez, Messi, Neymar (Pedro 80′)
Goals: Suárez (16′, 30′)
1. Manchester City are getting closer to be able to play Europe’s best. It’s important to note that Yaya Touré would’ve made a difference, but Barcelona sliced apart City’s midfield and defense with the artistry and precision of a gourmet chef slicing vegetables. The second half was much better, at least until Clichy’s dumb tackle got him sent off, but they’ll face another massive test with the return leg in Barcelona.
2. Luis Suárez doesn’t need to score goals, but he still can. Barcelona don’t need Suárez scoring at the rate he was for Liverpool. He’s not the centerpiece of the attack, he’s not option 1, 1a, 2 and possibly 3. He’s a part in a machine that can function in many ways, depending on the situation and what the opposition allows. When there are ridiculous channels for him to run though, like there was today, he’ll score. If not, he’ll help pick a defense apart and setup other players. Whatever it takes.
3. Gerard Piqué can still be a great defender. Look, he’s getting older, he’s not what he used to be thanks to age and injuries, but on certain nights, he can still be a tremendous player. He really had a great match for Barca on Tuesday night, possibly one of his best of the last season and a half.