A Controversial Night In Manchester
I'm trying to find two or three good sentences to sum up tonight's game but it's not that easy. Still, as a Barcelona fan, I'm ultimately happy with how things went down - and, of course, with the final result, which I was, in all honesty, not expecting.
Barcelona's first 10 minutes on the Etihad's field kind of took me back in time, to when Pep Guardiola was still the coach and the "tiki-taka" reigned. Manchester City was dormant, waiting to see what they could do. Barcelona was playing their game, even though they lacked when it came to turning their strong strategy into goals. And when the Citizens actually started fighting back, the Spanish side was endangered for a long time there, especially in the last few minutes of the first half.
Even though there was a penalty that the referee didn't concede to Barça (at least to me, a hand ball inside the box, as unintentional as it might have been, is always a penatly) and despite the uneven levels of ball possession, Manchester City was clearly on top and I was expecting them to materialize that advantage into goals as soon as the game started again.
But it wasn't quite like that. Just a few minutes after the second half began, Martín Demichelis couldn't keep up with Lionel Messi's speed and was forced to commit a foul, which turned into a penalty. I've seen a lot of people complaining about this decision, plus Demichelis's expulsion, but I don't think there's much to say about it - Demichelis tried to take the ball from his fellow countryman and tripped him; that movement might have started outside the box but ended inside it, which made it a fair penalty. But penalties are always difficult decisions the referees have to make and there will always be someone who will not agree, so I'd rather not focus on it all that much.
What was left of the second half highlighted City's newfound debilities, not being able to break Barcelona's tactic anymore. Tata Martino's side played a quiet, patient game from then on, although I believe they should have taken better advantage of the position they were in, playing with 11 against 10. Manchester City actually managed to threaten Victor Valdés's net a few too many times and almost succeeded, but the Catalan goalkeeper was magistral tonight and proved, once again, how underrated he really is and how much he deserves to be acclaimed as one of the best goalkeepers in the world.
Towards the end of the game, Gerard Piqué scored a goal that the referee prontly annulled, allegedly because it was offside, but watching the play again clearly stated that the goal had been completely legal. To those who claim there wasn't a penalty over Messi earlier, I'll say that there's a nice Catalan saying that goes as "El futbol et torna el qui li dónes", which means, "Football gives you back what you give it". I choose to apply it here because, if that penalty really wasn't a penalty, then maybe this wrongly annulled goal evened the score.
Dani Alves played a terrible game in the first half, either barred by Aleksandar Kolarov's strong presence or sending silly (there's really no better word to describe them) passes on to the box when there was no one there, or trying to score in absurd angles, but on the second half the Brazillian shined and finally was able to rob the ball and play it like he used to in olden times. He was awarded with a last minute goal that was so unexpected, it brought me an even greater joy.
Overall, I'd say that the Barcelona players individual quality helped a lot when it came to winning this game. Valdés played an impeccable game. Piqué and Javier Mascherano were much more secure than I've seen them in Barça's past few games and that was an undeniable help. Alves had his moments, as I said, and Jordi Alba was his usual effective self - for the first 40 minutes of this game, nobody saw or heard Jesús Navas because Alba did a fantastic job dulling his fellow Spanaird's movements, and that is saying a lot about how well he played.
Sergio Busquets also played well as always, even though he could and should have avoided that yellow card. Xavi Herádez was much better than I've seen him lately, though not completely up to his best, while Cesc Fabregàs and Andres Iniesta were inspired and did a good job interchanging their positions on the front and the midfield. Alexis Sanchez didn't score but built a good game and Neymar did the same - I think the team played much better when he was subbed in, actually.
Finally, Messi... well, it wasn't one of his most brilliant exhibitions and he was actually quite unnoticed on the first half, but after he scored the penalty he became more active and involved.
I never expected this game to end like this, because I was expecting a worse Barcelona and a better Manchester City. Neither of them played badly, neither of them played really well, there were controversial decisions from the referee and, for practically the whole game, I never really felt secure of the result. It always seemed like one team or the other could suddenly go for it and score a new goal.
But this is football, folks, and I finally found the best way to sum-up tonight's clash for me: the game ended 2-0 and Messi was smiling as he left the field. That's how we know it really was a good night for us "culés".