Lionel Messi scores a perfect 10 as the conductor for sublime Barcelona
Barcelona achieved a superb 1-0 victory against Manchester City at the Camp Nou in the second leg of the Champions League round of 16. The aggregate 3-1 scoreline enabled the Catalans to reach the quarterfinals of the biggest competition in European football for a record eighth consecutive season. Ivan Rakitic scored the goal for the Blaugrana, who enjoyed 57 percent of possession, created 23 goalscoring chances and attempted 20 shots, 11 of them on target and two off the post.
Manuel Pellegrini hasn't beaten the Catalans since March 2008, despite having coached against them on numerous occasions with Villarreal, Real Madrid and the Citizens in that time. The Chilean announced before the game that his team would control the game from the initial whistle, but that prediction did not play itself out during the game.
The Blaugranas were sublime from beginning to end, taking advantage of the many spaces created by a constant dynamism in their attacking third. While it definitely was a close encounter at times, the hosts looked comfortable from beginning to end thanks to their collective unity and several individual performances.
The Blaugrana machine continues rolling forward, with the crucial league Clasico against historical rivals Real Madrid looming in the not-so-distant future.
Player Ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Marc Andre Ter Stegen, 8 -- Incredibly lucky not get caught out when attempting an ambitious dribbling slalom in the second half. Redeemed himself by saving the penalty taken by Sergio Aguero minutes later, a big moment that the German goalkeeper thoroughly deserved.
DF Dani Alves, 7 -- Focused on ensuring his defensive duties were fulfilled before venturing forward. The Brazilian's more mature approach made the Catalans' back-line much more consistent. Luckily, the days when rivals used to take advantage of Alves' ever-growing gap behind his back seem long and truly gone.
DF Jeremy Mathieu, 7 -- Preferred to Marc Bartra at the heart of defence, a decision that ended up paying off. Solid and reliable, the French international proved why the Barcelona board invested so heavily to secure his services in the summer.
DF Gerard Pique, 8 -- Comfortable on the ball, authoritative in the air. Despite being faced with some of the best strikers in world football, looked confident throughout and seemed to have the upper hand at all times. Slowly but surely becoming the defensive leader he always had the potential to be, especially after the many years spent learning alongside the legendary Carles Puyol.
DF Jordi Alba, 7 -- Took advantage of his unrivalled speed to contribute effectively at both ends of the pitch. Overlapped Neymar constantly, offering a valuable attacking alternative. Could have even scored in the early moments of the second half, but the left-back's shot was saved by the sensational Joe Hart.
MF Javier Mascherano, 7 -- Replaced the injured Sergio Busquets in the holding midfielder position and, as has been the norm all year, performed at world-class level. Worked tirelessly to ensure Barcelona's lines were as compact as possible whenever they lost possession, tackling effectively and correcting the positioning of others when needed.
MF Andres Iniesta, 7 -- Despite not having such a notable attacking presence due to Luis Enrique's more direct formation, the Spanish international played a key part in enabling Barca's transitions into the final third. Considering his status as one of the world's most-talented playmakers, seeing him sacrifice his own individual brilliance for the overall benefit of the team in this way is admirable.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 9 -- Scored his first-ever goal in the Champions League, certainly one for the photo album. His sumptuous strike over the Citizen goalkeeper, which ultimately unbalanced the tie, was a perfect combination of sublime calmness and class. Once again, fought for every single loose ball in the middle of the park and combined well to ensure Barca's attacking engine kept ticking.
FW Neymar Jr, 8 -- Encouragingly close to his best. Proved a nightmare to defend against. His dynamism and ideal fitness gave him the edge over his markers time and time again. Always eager to provide an extra burst of pace and quality from the left. Hit the post after just five minutes, a sign of the fantastic performance that was to come. Should have scored after facing Hart one-on-one several times in the second half, however.
FW Luis Suarez, 8 -- Full of confidence. Constantly occupying centre-backs and creating opportunities for others by moving into spaces, even if fully aware the through pass wasn't likely to come his way. Unselfish play at its best from the Uruguayan star. Would be disappointed after hitting the woodwork and not finding the net despite having a couple of clear chances but, overall, a performance which enabled his team to qualify for the next round.
FW Lionel Messi, 10 -- Magical. A masterclass to remember from the quadruple Ballon d'Or winner. The Argentinean's influence was immense at every level. Assisted Rakitic for the first after a trademark diagonal slalom from the right wing and was instrumental in every Blaugrana attacking play. Not happy with that, went on to display a collection of quality touches, including a couple of memorable nutmegs, that not even the visiting Pep Guardiola could possibly explain with words. Those who haven't quite followed Barca lately and thought Messi was in decline at the end of last season are probably still picking their jaws off the floor in admiration.
MF Rafinha Alcantara, n/a -- Substituted Rakitic after 83 minutes. Ensured Barca kept possession in the latter stages of the game.
DF Adriano Correia, n/a -- Replaced Alves after 91 minutes, which gave him very little time to make a significant impact.