Manchester City masterclass exposes brittle Barça

Defeat to Manchester City shouldn't dent Barcelona's chances of Champions League progression but the manner in which the English side stormed to victory exposed the brittleness of a Barça side badly missing the injured Gerard Pique and Andres Iniesta.

Manchester City masterclass exposes brittle Barça
Ilkay Gundogan (R) celebrates scoring his team's third goal. Photo: AFP

Barça had won all five previous meetings between the sides over the past two years and a landmark European victory looked set to be beyond City once more when Lionel Messi finished off a lethal counterattack for his 15h goal in his last 13 games against English opposition.

“They were a scandalously good (first) 40 minutes,” said a far-from-downbeat Barça boss Luis Enrique.

“I think it was one of the best first-half performances from my team (this season), which, in a scenario like this and against such a difficult team, has a lot of merit.”

Messi's 21st minute opener was followed by a 15-minute spell of complete Barça domination, but Sergi Roberto's error in gifting the ball away on the edge of his own box turned the game as Ilkay Gundogan levelled before the break for Pep Guardiola's side.

Kevin De Bruyne's stunning free-kick and another from Gundogan sealed a 3-1 win after half-time and a famous win for Guardiola against the club he won 30 trophies with as player and coach.

Even Guardiola was effusive in his praise for Barça's start.

“The (first) 38 minutes (shows) we cannot compete with the best teams in the world,” he said.

Yet, in seeing their good work of the first 45 minutes so ruthlessly undone by City's power, pace and precision, Barça's dependence on two pillars of the side – often overlooked due to the presence of Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar – was exposed.

As well as being a rock at the back, Pique's ability to play out from the back was missed against City's pressing.  

In his absence, Sergio Busquets had to take even more of that responsibility from holding midfield and was uncharacteristically flustered in consistently giving the ball away.

“Sometimes it is a matter of centimetres between robbing a ball or controlling it,” said Busquets, who is suffering one of the worst spells of form in his distinguished career.

“When you play against a team like City, they were more efficient.”

Fear factor gone?

Busquets's life is further complicated by the absence of Iniesta alongside him in midfield.

Without the key cog in assuring quality service to the “MSN” frontline, City's pressing managed to short-circuit Barça's midfield after the break.  

It is no coincidence that Iniesta hasn't started in all three of Barça's defeats in their last 12 games.

Worryingly for Enrique, Iniesta and Pique will also miss Sunday's crucial La Liga trip to Sevilla, whilst Iniesta is a doubt for Real Madrid's visit to the Camp Nou on December 3rd.

Despite defeat Champions League progress will be assured for the Spanish champions with just a point at Celtic in three weeks' time.  

Barça can also secure top spot with four points from their last two games as Borussia Moenchengladbach travel to the Catalan capital on matchday six.    

Enrique's men retain the better head-to-head record against City thanks to Messi's hat-trick in a 4-0 rout in Barcelona two weeks ago.  

“We are calm because it is still in our hands,” said Suarez.

While there is no need to panic, City's second-half showing at the Etihad means at least some of Barça's fear factor will be lost if the two meet again in the knockout phase.

By AFP's Kieran Canning

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‘Complete bombshell’: Messi tells Barça he wants to leave

Lionel Messi has informed Barcelona that he wants to "unilaterally" terminate his contract with the Spanish giants, a club source confirmed to AFP on Tuesday.

'Complete bombshell': Messi tells Barça he wants to leave
Photo: AFP

Lawyers for the Argentina star sent Barça a fax in which they announced Messi's desire to rescind his contract by triggering a release clause, sending shockwaves throughout the world of football.

However, the club maintains the clause expired in June and that he remains under contract until the end of the 2021 season.  

“In principal, this clause expired on June 10th, but the unusual nature of this season disrupted by the coronavirus opened the way for Messi to ask to be released from his contract now,” wrote Spanish sports daily Marca.

“It's the first step towards opening negotiations over his departure, on the basis of which his release clause amounts to 700 million euros.”    

Messi joined Barça's youth academy at the age of 13 and made his debut for Barça in 2004 as a 17-year-old.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner is the club's record scorer with 634 goals and has won the Champions League four times.    

But his future at Barça was thrown into doubt following a humiliating 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals in Lisbon 11 days ago.

The humbling defeat sparked drastic changes within the club. Coach Quique Setien was sacked after barely six months in charge while sporting director Eric Abidal was also dismissed after Barça's first season without a trophy since 2007.   

Argentine sports daily Ole described Messi's wish to leave as a “complete bombshell”, but the Argentine has had regular disagreements with the club's board in recent times.

'More out than in'

According to Spanish media, Messi met with new Barça coach Ronald Koeman last week and told the Dutchman he saw himself “more out than in” the club.    

Since his appointment Koeman has reportedly told Luis Suarez he is no longer part of Barça's plans, delivering a similar message to Arturo Vidal, Ivan Rakitic and Samuel Umtiti.

Bayern's demolition simply exposed Barça's ageing team for what Messi has been saying all along: they are simply not good enough.    

He said it in February and again in July, when a rant in the aftermath of handing Real Madrid the title turned into a brutal, but honest, assessment of their season.

As his relationship with the club hierarchy grew increasingly strained, Messi also reacted publicly when Abidal appeared to blame the players for the sacking of Ernesto Valverde in January.

He also led the fightback from the Barcelona players over a dispute with the board in March regarding pay cuts during the coronavirus pandemic.    

“Respect and admiration, Leo. All my support, friend,” tweeted Barça great Carles Puyol, a long-time former team-mate of Messi.    

“When you shut a tiger in a cage, he doesn't give in he fights back,” tweeted Vidal.

Messi's reported salary of nearly one million euros per week would limit the number of potential suitors, with Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Inter Milan three clubs linked with an audacious swoop for one of football's all-time greats.