Lionel Messi dazzled with a hat-trick in his first start in nearly month as Barcelona thumped Manchester City 4-0 in Champions League Group C action on Wednesday night at the Camp Nou.
Messi, making his first start since the injury he suffered in a 1-1 draw versus Atlético Madrid on September 21, scored a hat-trick and Neymar added a late strike as the Catalonians ruined yet another homecoming for former manager Pep Guardiola. The City boss had also fallen to a 3-0 defeat to Barcelona as Bayern Munich manager in the 2014-15 Champions League semifinals and suffered a similar fate on Wednesday.
The win keeps Barcelona's place at the top of the group with nine points through three matches, and a spot in the next round a near certainty for the Catalonians. It was not a completely dominating performance from Barcelona though, as City had their chances, but the errors committed by Guardiola's men, mainly deep in their own half, proved decisive.
French defender Samuel Umtiti was restored to Barcelona's starting XI and took up a centre-back role, which forced Javier Mascherano out wide to right-back, which the Argentine handled quite well despite his lack of experience at the position. A fascinating tactical match-up between the two managers was awaited by all, but Luis Enrique's plans were thrown for a loop early on when Jordi Alba was forced to leave the match with a hamstring injury and was replaced by Lucas Digne.
GoalkeepersGuardiola's troops were out to make Barcelona uncomfortable in bringing the ball out and tried to force a long ball from goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen. Barcelona took a similar tack when former Barcelona goalkeeper and current City No. 1 Claudio Bravo had the ball and significantly reduced the Chilean's passing lanes.
The centre of the pitch was hardly utilised in the first 15 minutes, but the first time Barcelona had a clean play through their midfield it resulted in the game's opening score. Messi played the advantage after a City foul and found Andres Iniesta deep in the City area. From there Iniesta back-heeled it to Messi, who suddenly found himself unmarked due to a slip from Fernandinho, and La Pulga easily rounded former teammate Claudio Bravo before sweeping the ball into the net for the 1-0 lead.
A David Silva challenge from behind on Gerard Piqué that left the centre-back hobbling ultimately forced Luis Enrique into making his second change in just the 39th minute. Piqué had tried to soldier on after the foul, but it was evident he was in pain. Piqué was also badly exposed on a Gündogan run into the Barcelona area that ended with a big save from Ter Stegen, and seconds later Jeremy Mathieu was brought on to spell the former Manchester United defender.
Arguably City's best look at goal in the first half came just moments before the half-time whistle when City beat Barcelona's high line on a free kick but John Stones' header was poor and flew wide of the net. City began to find some space in the Barcelona defence, specifically Kevin De Bruyne getting into pockets of space by the end-line behind Digne and Mathieu, but there were no City shirts to meet the crosses of the Belgian.
But any momentum that City had been building came to an abrupt halt by a moment of madness from Bravo. The Chilean came out of his area to clear a ball with Luis Suárez bearing down, but instead gifted the ball right to Suárez, who immediately launched a shot toward goal. Bravo, still well outside the area, reacted by raising his arms to stop the shot, and the referee did not hesitate to show the red card, thus ending Bravo's Barcelona homecoming. Back-up goalkeeper Willy Caballero came on for Bravo, with Nolito the player up front sacrificed.
Barcelona were eager to make their English visitors pay after the Bravo red card and soon enough Messi doubled the lead on the hour mark. A De Bruyne giveaway allowed Iniesta to feed Messi, who then rocketed a left-footer in past Caballero to hand Barcelona a 2-0 edge.
City only had themselves to blame on Barcelona's third, as another error led to a Messi goal. Gündogan played a needless back-pass to Stones, which went right past the former Everton man, and Suárez was happy to take advantage and crossed for Messi, who easily converted for his hat trick.
A glimmer of hope came City's way in the 74th minute when Mathieu was sent off. Just minutes after the Frenchman had received his first yellow, he foolishly brought down Raheem Sterling with a hard foul, and the incredulous look on Luis Enrique's face as Mathieu trudged off the pitch with his second yellow pretty much said it all.
But Barcelona was too much and minutes after missing a penalty, Neymar redeemed himself by finishing off a brilliant run into the box to give Barcelona the 4-0 scoreline.
Barcelona will return to action in la Liga on Saturday at Valencia.
- Match sheet:
4 - Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Mascherano, Piqué (Mathieu, min.39), Umtiti, Jordi Alba (Digne, min.9); Sergio Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta (André Gomes, min.80); Messi, Luis Suárez, Neymar.
0 - Manchester City: Bravo; Zabaleta (Clichy, min.57), Otmendi, Stones, Koralov; Gündogan
(Agüero, min.79), Fernandinho, Silva; Sterling, De Bruyne, Nolito (Caballero, min.57).
Goals: 1-0: Messi, min.17. 2-0: Messi, min.61. 3-0: Messi, min.69. 4-0: Neymar, min.89.
Referee: Milorad Mazic (SRB).
Yellow cards: Silva (min.29), Fernandinho (min.40), Mathieu (min.71, 73).
Red cards: Bravo (min.53), Mathieu (min.73).
Camp Nou (Barcelona): 96.290.
CULLED FROM MARCA