A Lionel Messi hat-trick and Neymar’s late solo dribble helped Barcelona to a Champions League victory over Manchester City, but they had Claudio Bravo to thank for a ridiculous second half error.
Manchester City started well, dominating the ball and keeping Barcelona at arms length, until an unfortunate Fernandinho slip up allowed Messi in.
Messi skipped around former team-mate Bravo and rolled the ball home to get Barcelona off to what was an undeserved lead.
Barcelona began to grow into the game but were hampered by injuries to Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique, replaced by Lucas Digne and Jeremy Mathieu respectively.
City forced Ter Stegen into action, with the German making saves from first Nolito and then Ilkay Gundogan in quick succession.
Unfortunately for the visitors Bravo’s huge error cost them, when he gave the ball away to Luis Suarez outside his area and then handled the striker’s attempted lob, sent off by referee Milorad Mazic.
Messi soon scored his second of the night with a low scorcher that brought back memories of his first goal against Guardiola’s Bayern Munich in the 2015 semi-final to effectively kill the game.
He completed his hat-trick when Gundogan’s slack pass allowed Suarez to roll the ball across to dispatch past Willy Caballero.
Mathieu was sent off for a silly challenge on Raheem Sterling as City pushed for a consolation, levelling things up at 10 men each, but it had little impact on a game which had already been finished.
Neymar missed a late penalty after Messi was chopped down in the area, with Caballero picking the right direction and parrying his effort, but he made amends with a brilliant solo goal at the death.
1. Bravo makes ludicrous error
Claudio Bravo was already having a rough time of it after some high profile errors and this was his most grievous yet.
The Chilean goalkeeper ran out of his area to meet the ball but passed it straight to Luis Suarez, who was standing right in front of him.
City’s faithful, high up in Camp Nou’s rafters couldn’t believe their eyes. And when Bravo then tried to save Suarez’ lob with his hands and was sent off, it compounded his mistake.
A penny for Joe Hart’s thoughts? After all, the reason the England No 1 was allowed to head to Torino was because Guardiola wanted a goalkeeper that can play with his feet.
Of course, making a mistake like this doesn’t mean the philosophy is wrong per se, just being applied badly, but it has been a rocky ride for Bravo since joining City.
Until that moment he was actually having a good game, having denied Suarez brilliantly towards the end of the first half and been alert to any Barcelona danger.
But now he will feel the criticism more strongly than ever when he gets back home to Manchester. He will need the thick skin he displayed in the summer to get over this mistake.
Bravo made several big errors for Chile in their opening Copa America games, but pulled himself together and earned a string of clean sheets on the way to winning the trophy. That’s what Guardiola will expect from him again.
2. Messi shows he’s the best
Cristiano Ronaldo will be crowned the best player in the world in January, it’s almost certain.
He won the Champions League with Real Madrid and the European Championships with Portugal, that’s how it works.
But anybody who has bothered to watch Real Madrid and Barcelona in 2016 will appreciate there is a vast difference in level between the Argentine and the Portuguese, with the former head and shoulders above the latter.
Messi’s hat-trick here displayed key attributes, speed of thought, quality of finish and perfect positioning. His dribble for Barcelona’s late penalty was exhilarating.
The goals will be focussed on, but on his first start after a month out injured, his overall display oozed quality. At times he played in the right-back position to cover for Javier Mascherano, showing maturity and responsibility which only complement his existing skills.
Luis Enrique claimed that whatever position you picked Messi in, apart from goalkeeper, he would be the best in the world. And maybe he’s right.
3. City’s defending will cost them
Barcelona were not at their best but they still created dangerous chances because Man City’s defence is so prone to allowing them to happen.
The goal itself can be considered a little unfortunate as Fernandinho slipped over, allowing Messi in on Claudio Bravo’s goal, but nobody was tracking the Argentine. Nicolas Otamendi stopped in his tracks and Messi was the only player sharp enough to anticipate a potential loose ball.
Luis Suarez wriggled his way in past John Stones for a chance at the end of the half too, which Bravo did brilliantly to save first with his leg, then his hands, tipping the ball over the bar after it ricocheted up into the sky.
The Uruguayan went close earlier with an effort that hit the side-netting, again laid on by a City player as they struggled to clear their lines and Fernandinho’s attempted tackle landed at Suarez’s feet.
Neymar’s probing was causing problems too, and while it’s no shame to concede chances to a forward line this impressive—they weren’t actually playing very well and were still getting opportunities.
The second half saw the situation worsen, with Kevin De Bruyne and Gundogan also making errors ahead of Messi’s second and third goals—not to mention Bravo’s red card.
4. Pep not afraid to upset people
Manchester City’s coach is an enigma. Both fans and journalists who cover the club were scratching their heads at Guardiola’s decision to leave Sergio Aguero out of the starting line-up.
In what could prove to be the club’s hardest game of the season, leaving out the man widely thought to be Man City’s best player was a bold call.
At first there were injury suspicions—the Argentine is no stranger to the treatment table and had only just retuned from an absence—but Guardiola confirmed on television before the game that it was a tactical decision.
He wanted an extra body in midfield and the decision helped his side have more of the ball in the first half and dominate the game, despite going in a goal behind.
If it wasn’t for a Fernandinho slip and Bravo’s moment of madness, it may have worked too.
5. Umtiti will become one of the world’s best
The French centre-back was picked after three weeks out injured and did not put a foot wrong.
Even when Gerard Pique went off injured he kept his cool, while Mascherano struggled out of position and Mathieu was sent off.
Umtiti joined Barcelona this summer and already looks more comfortable in Blaugrana than players who have been there for years.
Calm and composed on the ball, aggressive and quick in his attempts to win it back when Barcelona don’t have it, Umtiti is a player of real quality who will soon be a fixture in the side on nights like these.
He’s not yet a household name, but if you keep an eye on him you won’t be disappointed.