Ilkay Gundogan scores brace, motors Man City midfield to win vs. Barcelona
Manchester City's defeat at the Camp Nou two weeks ago was seen by some as a thrashing, yet it proved to be the prelude to the team's second-half display in their 3-1 victory at the Etihad against the same opposition. Pressing high, City swamped Barcelona with a ferocious start to the second period. After recording a result that will echo around the continent, Pep Guardiola's side have announced their arrival as serious candidates for European honours this season.
The ferocity of the second-half display instantly took the wind out of Barcelona's calm passing game. Playing high tempo with an aggressive bite to the midfield, City swarmed all over their illustrious visitors.
City gave too much space to the opposition playmakers early on, leading to a figure of 28 percent possession directly before Sergi Roberto's adventurous pass let the home side back into the game.
Manager rating out of 10
9 -- A passive first half was tweaked into a high-pressing, fast-running, fearless second half, with a midfield that had been overrun in the first 45 minutes. They suddenly hurtled into tackles as if their lives depended on it. Substitutions worked like a treat.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Willy Caballero, 7 -- Started with a poor pass out and finished the match with a scolding from his manager for duplicating the error. Looked uncomfortable with the idea of short passing out of his box.
DF Pablo Zabaleta, 8 -- Was still running his socks off in the 92nd minute as he lunged into one last tackle. An all-action display -- sometimes from central midfield and other times from high up the right wing. Just like the old days.
DF Nicolas Otamendi, 7 -- Got himself into trouble with his gung-ho approach on more than one occasion, but what a fearless display. Looked to be enjoying the match immensely, but will have left one or two with serious palpitations.
DF John Stones, 7 -- Was far upfield when Barcelona scored the opener, and he had his hands full with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez running at him in the first half. Was more composed in the second period until a good break up the pitch suddenly ended with a 40-yard back pass, which landed straight in front of Suarez.
DF Aleksandar Kolarov, 8 -- All action from the Serbian. In trouble during the first half, but gamely joined the fun later on, providing one delicious pass into the box that Kevin De Bruyne failed to touch in. Yellow carded for handing off Ivan Rakitic, but an extremely disciplined performance otherwise.
MF Fernandinho, 7 -- Was the last man in midfield with Gundogan pressing forward, which meant he was a little lost in the early maelstrom. Dug in and won some vital tackles, none more so than a critical block on Messi as he was about to shoot at 1-1.
MF David Silva, 8 -- Quiet first half as his spaces were well and truly occupied by opponents, who were in cruise control. Found his zone of influence and passing range and began to make a significant difference after the break. Once again the master of tiny spaces by the end.
MF Ilkay Gundogan, 9 -- Terrific energy throughout. Was the first man back as Barcelona broke to take the lead, and he was also the man in the right place for two of City's three replies. Fired a rocket straight at Marc-Andre ter Stegen in between and motored around midfield in the second half as if the game was just starting. Tactically astute positioning throughout.
MF Kevin De Bruyne, 9 -- Transformed himself from a dislocated winger to one of the catalysts for City's win. As soon as the Belgian began to click, so did the team. Gave City the lead with a wonderfully looped free kick and was so close to a fourth goal, too. Magical pass through to Navas set up the third.
MF Raheem Sterling, 9 -- Denied a clear penalty by the referee, who decided to book him for diving instead,. Sterling refused to hide and was a marvelous galvanising force as City took the game to the visitors toward the end of the first half. Produced two killer passes for the equaliser and the third goal before being replaced by Jesus Navas on 70 minutes.
FW Sergio Aguero, 9 -- Fantastic display of driving, spirited forward play. So patient in the buildup to the critical third goal as he waited for the right pass to De Bruyne, and ended up providing the assist for Gundogan as he fell like a tree in the six-yard box. A constant menace.
MF Fernando, 7 -- Came on to add weight to the midfield, replacing Fernandinho, and did a great job for the last 30 minutes.
MF Jesus Navas, 8 -- Great impact down the right flank, superb burst of speed and pass for the third goal.
MF Nolito, N/R -- Came on late for De Bruyne, just in time to enjoy the scenes at full-time.
Simon is one of ESPN FC's Manchester City bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @bifana_bifana.