20 Oct A Messi return for Pep at the Nou camp
Lionel Messi delivered a hat-trick of pain to Manchester City and cemented the Spanish giants place at the top of group C with an emphatic 4-0 victory.
It was a miserable return to the Nou camp for Pep Guardiola and also for former goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, who was sent off eight minutes into the second half for a hand ball outside the box to stop what would have been a certain goal from Luis Suarez.
Guardiola has already stated he would love nothing better than to see Messi wearing a Manchester City strip in the summer, but on Wednesday night the world’s best player only had Barca on his mind as he delivered three killer blows.
Slack defending allowed the Barca no10 to pounce on a slip by Fernandinho inside the box and the tiny Argentinian simply waltzed round Bravo to put the home side ahead after 17 minutes.
Ilkay Gündogan almost got an equaliser for City, soon after Messi’s goal, but ter Stegen produced a top class save on his left side to clear the danger.
Just before the break David Silva picked out John Stones from a free kick and the £50m defender should have buried the header. He didn’t even hit the target from eight yards.
Messi slipped Luis Suarez in for the last chance of the first half, but his swivel and shot was saved by Bravo, first with his foot and then an acrobatic leap to push the ball over the bar as it spun towards goal.
Barcelona suffered the loss of Jordi Alba and Gerard Piqué in the first 45 minutes, but they still managed to keep a clean sheet for the remainder of the game.
Kevin de Bruyne almost directed Raheem Sterling’s cross into the goal in the early period of the second half, but the key moment came in the 53rd minute with Bravo’s dismissal for hand ball outside the box.
That allowed one of Europe’s best teams an extra man advantage in their own backyard with almost forty minutes remaining. There was only going to be one winner now.
Just beyond the hour, Barcelona doubled their advantage with Messi’s second of the night. A simple shot steered away from substitute goalkeeper Willy Caballero from the edge of the box.
Eight minutes later, Messi completed his seventh Champions League hat-trick and his second in the group stage, following on from the three strikes in the first match demolition of Celtic.
Suddenly, a similar scoreline to that 7-0 drubbing handed out to Brendan Rodgers’ side looked a distinct possibility against the ten men of City.
However, Barcelona were reduced to ten men when substitute Jérémy Mathieu was given a second yellow for his second bookable challenge on Raheem Sterling within two crazy minutes, but in the end it did not have any impact on the outcome.
Messi continued to threaten and won a penalty for Barca after being upended by Kolorov, but Neymar’s spot kick was saved by Caballero.
The fourth goal finally arrived one minute before the end and this time Neymar found the net after a mazy run and shot from inside the box.
This was Neymar’s 150th appearance for Barcelona and his 91st goal comes at just the right time for the Brazilian, as he prepares to sign a new 5 year deal with the Catalan giants at the end of the week. Timing is everything!