Pep Guardiola was beaten for the second time as an opposition manager at the Nou Camp as Barcelona extended their lead at the top of the Group C table to five points.
A Lionel Messi hat-trick was the highlight of the game, despite a somewhat below par display from the home side. Claudio Bravo’s second half red card turned the tide of a game that City had played their part in and could have counted themselves unfortunate to be 1-0 down in. The scoreline certainly flattered the home side, but it still signified a clear gap in quality that remains between the Premier League’s top teams and Europe’s best.
Guardiola opted to leave Sergio Aguero on the bench, siting a necessity to play with more midfielders as the reason and denying any injury concerns.
The two opposing managers’ warm embrace in the tunnel before kick off emphasised the mutual respect that Luis Enrique had spoken of prior to the game, describing Guardiola as “the best current coach” in world football.
But Enrique was to end the night with the bragging rights as his side comfortably beat their Premier League opposition.
In a fascinating tactical encounter, City were not afraid to press high in the early exchanges, utilising a similar approach to that which Guardiola took in his last revisit of the Nou Camp with Bayern.
Both sides shared spells of possession in the opening minutes, the ball rarely leaving the immaculate surface. If ever there was a game for the football purists, this was it. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was City who were pressing with more aggression and intensity, demonstrating the unwavering devotion their new coach has to his philosophy.
Unfortunately for the visitors, Barca took the lead somewhat against the run of play after 17 minutes, a loose ball in the box pounced on by Lionel Messi after Fernandinho had slipped. The Argentine once again found the net against the manager who helped him become the world’s best, as he rounded former teammate Claudio Bravo and coolly slotted home.
City had held their own in the first half but lacked any attacking threat. Defensively they had kept the home side relatively quiet by their normal standards, although there was a sense that there was more to come after Luis Suarez and Ivan Rakitic came close.
Ilkay Gundogan created the away side’s first notable chance of the game, beating Pique with ease – the defender’s last action of the game as he withdrew through injury – before placing a shot towards the far corner which was well pushed away by Ter Stegen. Just before half time they went even closer, John Stones putting a free header wide of the post from a David Silva free kick, as City ended the half with much more of a threat.
The loss of both Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique seemed to have created a nervousness at the back for Barcelona but City failed to capitalise on their chances. Goalkeeper Claudio Bravo then proved the architect of his own downfall, rushing out of his box only for his attempted pass to find Luis Suarez, who’s attempted shot was deliberately handled outside the box by the Chilean. The resulting red card left his side with ten men for the remaining 35 minutes of the game on his return to the Nou Camp and proved a turning point in the game.
Not long after Bravo’s exit, the home side doubled their lead, Messi cutting onto his left foot from 20 yards out before placing the ball in at the near post in almost trademark style.
After a chance for Kevin De Bruyne was saved by Ter Stegen, Messi completed his hattrick and sealed the game for the home side, tapping in Suarez’s square pass from close range just before the 70 minute mark. Despite it not being a Barca side at their best, they had demonstrated the effect that having three of the world’s best players in attack can have on a game.
The numbers were levelled when Jeremy Mathieu picked up a second yellow for a rash tackle, although it was still an insurmountable lead for Guardiola’s side to turn around. There was some consolation for City, substitute goalkeeper Willy Caballero saving a Neymar penalty in what was an uncharacteristically quiet night for the Brazilian.
Quick to make amends though, Neymar made it 4-0 just before full time, placing a low shot into the far corner to put the icing on the cake for Luis Enrique’s side.