Barça 1, Manchester City 0 (3-1 agg.), aka “Results are results, but beauty is enduring”


Imagine being Ivan Rakitic.

You are the best player on your team, a coveted midfielder who is chased by big clubs. You come to Barça and your aren’t even the best midfielder, never mind being the best player. You practice, you watch, and what must you think. You play a Champions League match in a knockout tie, and you make a run. As you make that run, you throw your arm up to ensure that your teammate sees you.

But that teammate is Lionel Messi. So he not only sees you, but he plops a pass to you so soft and perfect that it feels like you have forever to cushion it with your chest and calmly flick it over the onrushing opposition keeper. You have scored the opening, and eventually match-winnning goal.

Imagine being Ivan Rakitic.

We watch Messi and we marvel at him, but what must it be like to be a player who plays against him match after match, who has to wonder in his head what it must be like to play with, instead of against Messi, especially when he’s in one of those moods, where he wants to win. That Messi is a different Messi. That Messi wins a ball just outside of his own box and leads the break. That Messi runs, passes, defends, battles for possession and uses every tool in his immense bag of tricks to eviscerate the opponent.

Who wouldn’t want to play with that player? He doesn’t preen or pout. There are no on-pitch histrionics. If he gets fouled and doesn’t get the call, he gets up and resumes his business. His face doesn’t change whether he is having the match of his life, or a merely ordinary day. You wonder how that is possible, how when he is having a match such as he had today that he isn’t grinning, turning cartwheels and setting off an air horn whenever he gets the ball. “Woot! Party time!” I can’t remember a more dominant performance from a player who didn’t score. Most touches, most dribbles, most recovered balls by an attacker, most, most, most, most.

When people sit and debate who is the better player, Messi or Ronaldo, a lot of things get thrown about, but the simple reality is that Messi can dominate and completely control a match without putting a ball in the net. It happens often when he is That Messi, a newcomer to the world this season. The talk was always that Messi would, as he aged, develop into a 10 as a concession to a diminishing skill set. But nobody stopped to consider that he would do it in his prime, or that he would embrace the right side of the pitch as a launch pad rather than a jail.

People bring their own notions to the game. “Messi on the right is stupid. Enrique is a fool for not having Messi as close as possible to goal, etc, blablabla.” I, like many, like to write about football. I can even pretend that I know a wee something about tactics. But when someone whose money and ass are on the line makes a move such as putting Messi on the right, it’s probably for a reason. In this case, it has unleashed him. He isn’t running up the middle at a bank of defenders now. He has a fullback and maybe a midfielder to beat. And he has playmates in Neymar and Suarez.

Whatever people care to attribute the Messi “return,” such as it is, to, for me it’s easy as pie: he has a coach who understands, and has made him understand the potential that comes from Messi being on the right. If you are an opponent trying to figure out what to do with That Messi, it’s a problem because like his teammates, he’s abnormal in that good way.


There was a passing sequence that occurred on the touch line that will never make a highlight reel as Barça played out of trouble, out of what seemed to be a Manchester City lockdown. But a flick, a backheel and a couple of one touches later, the ball was in the midfield in space, and City was scrambling yet again.

Much is made of style and manner when it comes to Barça. It is often said that the result doesn’t matter as much as the method from which the result was obtained. That is a statement that isn’t malleable. It isn’t a brickbat one time, then the silence of crickets at others. It’s a constant. This 1-0 match was a beatdown. That it could easily have been 6 or 7-0 for better finishing is, for me, immaterial. Barça played an exquisite match against a top-quality opponent in Europe, in a knockout round, and did it with style.

The result became the thing in some quarters, that the result and the match were somehow poor because there wasn’t a gaudy scoreline on the board. For me, that’s in error, as Barça was exquisite in almost completely controlling an opponent. In a Champions League knockout stage. The moment when Messi nutmegged James Milner and danced around him, leaving the opponent on hands and knees, defeated, typified this match overall. But this was having the cake and eating it, too — the result was the proper one, and the team played beautifully in achieving that result.

Manchester City started the match with 5 midfielders, and Barça still bossed the midfield. Manchester City got set pieces, things that used to be the bane of the Barça defense, but this new team is dealing with set pieces calmly and confidently, having only conceded 4 goals via set pieces (and scoring 11, which is also quite new). And this Barça wanted the ball. So when City had it, passes were contested and comfort was rare as the ball was pressed. Neymar fought for balls, Iniesta fought for balls, Jordi Alba went shoulder-to-shoulder with Toure Yaya, and the big man was felled like a giant sequoia.

City didn’t have a chance.

In the strange world of Barça Twitter, people were acting as though they did, as though that team was going to score two goals against Barça, the way it was playing tonight. On the biggest stage in European football, Barça out-everythinged Manchester City, defending Premier League champion. Outran, outfought, outpassed. Except for the penalty, a debatable call, every reasonable scoring chance that City could generate ended at the defense. And the penalty was saved by Ter Stegen. And that was that, because there was a psychological battle that ended with that deft bit of skill from Rakitic.

When Barça scored, City’s mission didn’t change. It still needed two goals. But the demeanor of the players changed. It must have felt to them like they had to score three times, like Barça could scamper about and threaten Joe Hart at will, while City had to walk a tightrope of kicking little feet with a ball that they never really felt in full possession of. It needed two goals, but City might as well have needed 10.

Method. Neymar finished for crap. But his all-pitch game brought to mind Thierry Henry when he was on the team. He ran, passed, stole, recovered, held up play and was an almost constant thorn in the side of City. If you focused on his finishing, you’d say he had a poor match. But the smart money would wager that Enrique pulled him aside and said, “Nice work. Thank you,” because Neymar put out for the colors. He was everywhere at both ends of the pitch. Again, method over results. Yes, he passed when he should have shot, and when he shot he should have done better with his shooting. But the mission that night wasn’t to score 6, but rather to not concede two.

In this, Neymar helped Barça stay on mission just as Iniesta did, in serving as a pit bull.


The Ghostface Iniesta was a spectral virtuoso who almost didn’t seem to exist on the corporeal plane as he danced with the ball. The physical aspects of his game were usually the result of an opponent saying “Enough,” and choosing Iniestabuse. Against Manchester City, time and again, he was fighting in midfield, taking balls back, shoving a foot in, at one moment putting Fernandinho on his butt and immediately rushing over to apologize. He probably sent him a fruit basket after the match with an apology card. “xoxo, Andres.”

The season until now has mostly been a focus on what this Barça is lacking compared to other, more idealized Barça teams. It is only recently that people have begun to notice what this team has, rather than what it lacks. People are beginning to evaluate this Barça in the context of a team that wants to achieve something, and they are liking what they see.

On the outside, all that we can do is speculate. Despite the vehemence of anyone’s assertion, the truly inside, in-the-know crowd is small. Everyone else is trying to read tea leaves. All that we have to go on, really, is competition and how the team comports itself, how it plays, the method that it uses to achieve a desired result. And on a night when a storied former coach was in the stands, this Barça separated itself from his Barça, even as some of the psychological characteristics, most notably the fight and hunger, were present. It was magic and magical, a team effort that for many will be lost in the fairy dust of a great player deciding to have his way with a theoretically powerful opponent.

Barça is a team on a mission. The success of that mission will depend, in the end, on so much, but mostly on the ministrations of a man who, like Rakitic, was in a very different situation last year. But this year, he’s putting the keys in the ignition and taking the wheel of a car, even as he, like us, is probably still not sure how fast this thing can go.


By Kxevin

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.


  1. Two things I’ve read all over the place today and wholeheartedly agree with:
    1) games like this make people who think CR is anywhere near Leo look so, so foolish. There’s no debate.
    2) Ivan was a wonderful signing, having his industrious work ethic in crunch time… We don’t miss ” The Walking Cesc” at all

    1. One aspect of his game that he needs to work is passing especially when he is pressured. Him, Suarez and Matthieu are below the standards of the other players which is expected since they’re not from La Masia and just joined the club.

      I doubt Matthieu will ever come close to being comfortable on the ball. He looks like a nerve wreck on the ball and his passing is really sloppy.

    2. Dribbling out comfortably with the ball is one thing but his passing out from the back is pretty poor, the last time I was nervous when a CB touched a ball was Chiggy and Bagnack. We are really fortunate that Maschenaro already had ball playing and passing skills.

    3. I’m seeing an improvement in him over his first few games. Not perfect by any means but not as slack as he was.

  2. Absolutely speechless.

    Messi’s display was just something else. Neymar was having fun. The finishing could be excused for the entertainment factor.

    Any and all articles about yesterday- please link here. I can’t find enough to read about Barca and Messi.

  3. We definitely played well, but similar to the first leg, this game brought equal amounts of joy and frustration. Some questions and points:

    1) Why did Enrique wait so long before making a sub? Certainly Xavi, Pedro, and Adriano were all options particularly since Alves was a yellow away from suspension. For me either Lucho doesn’t have confidence in these players or was just too concerned with being second guessed should some freak events have turned the tie. Still I would be very surprised if we don’t see the same starting team on Sunday against RM with just the expected Bravo for MAtS change.

    2) I was really hoping for a 5-0 evisceration but that leads to the question of why the score line matters so much in these ties? Score lines just don’t seem to carry the same importance in other sports, even for the biggest of games. My guess is that football brings out the most primitive emotions of “us vs them” and there is a certain feeling that we if we win big over a rival we are eviscerating an enemy and establishing our dominance once and for all.

    Also, in the Champions League you may have to wait years to get another before facing another big club so a decisive victory gives you bragging rights for that long a time with the belief that your club is indeed superior . I think deep down that is why many cules fear a Bayern rematch especially since they now have a coach who we may think knows our club inside out and thus can use use his experience against us. I would like to think many of these fears are exaggerated and our chances would be at least 50-50. The 7-0 thrashing come under a specific set of circumstances including a swimming pool that Bayern set up in their midfield and a Barca squad that was battered and bruised. Not that I am eager to face them again, but it would be sweet to get some payback. If it is to come, then let’s hope it will be the final.

  4. I dont know what we will win at the end of this season. But this game gave me so soooo much joy and am more than satisfied with this team. Thank you Barca and Messi. When even Pep gives that kind of expressions my family could forgive me for making wierd noises past midnight/early morning.

    I think sometime into the first half Messi realised that this was one other night when the ball is not in good terms with him and will not go into the net. He let others take the free kicks. But he must have slept like a baby after this match. Also, I dont think anymore that Messi cares about records.

    Also, am not scared anymore whenever the ball is in our half, unlike last season. We have an excellent defense!!!!

    Salute to Hart as well.

    1. I was going through tens and tens of nutmeg videos on YouTube this morning looking for a Ray Hudson commentary but none. I really want to hear his reaction to the nutmegs.

    2. Oh my what a loss to the viewers. Which company broadcasts the CL matches in the States? When I was living in Singapore, we had a similar thing whereby one cable tv company shows La Liga matches and the other company shows the CL matches. I was torn. In the end I chose La Liga so missed a lot of legendary CL matches in 2005 & 2006 like those against Chelsea.

  5. Loved this comment from Guardian:

    I love when Messi receives the ball and starts walking. Sheer panic erupts amongst the opposition in those couple of seconds.

    Shall I press?
    Who’s pressing?
    Where should I be positioned?
    Am I on a card?
    Where’s Neymar?
    Why am I a footballer?
    It wasn’t like this in the EPL!

    1. Can you please provide a link for that Guardian article? Would love that to read the entire piece as couldn’t stop laughing just reading your small quote. 🙂

    2. Sorry friend, there were 3 or 4 articles on Guardian yesterday about the game and the comments are going on into many many pages. The above comment was definitely not in any first page. It will take time to find which article. sorry.
      Try to read all of them, all were good articles.

  6. What can make a bigger impact of fear at the opponent? The extraordinary display with a low scoring result or a bellow par display with a high scoring result?

    For example, Bayern display was ignited by a third minute red card for ukranians and a penalty. But nevermind that, they scored 7 goals that night, so they are on form.

    1. Shh… It was just a 1-0 victory over an English nouvau riche, and the striker team showed terrible finishing. It’s a miracle such a team can be considered one of the best in Europe or to be feared. The ones to fear are Bayern, Real Madrid, PSG and Atletico.

  7. Intellectually, I know that Messi was playing on the right, but at times I swear he was everywhere on the pitch.

  8. This morning Lee Roden questioned the logic of EPL fans and pundits claiming the EPL is not the best league, but the most competitive.

    I think after yesterday we can all agree that it’s not the best:

    As of right now the EPL has only one team alive in European competitions, Everton, which needed a late penalty to claim victory at Goodison Park against Dinamo Kijv, a team coming from a country in an actual state of war. Everton is currently 14th in The Most Competitive League. For the second time since multiple teams from one League can enter the Champions League(1997-98 Champions League), and the second time in three years, The Premier League has no team in the Champions League Quarter-Finals.

    At the same time The Two-horse Liga has for the third consecutive year three teams among the eight that have managed to qualify to the Quarter-finals of the Champions League. Three of four initial participants. At the same time In Europa League there will be one certain Spanish representative in the Quarter-finals, and if Villarreal had been paired with another team and not Sevilla…

    What about the label “most competitive”?

    As of right now The Premier League has its first six teams spread over 14 points. The leaders, Chelsea with 64 points, have a 6-point cushion over the second-placed team, and they also have a game in hand(against Leicester City), and no other competitions to worry about, so full focus can be applied to get that title. That means a potential 9 point advantage, and 16 points from the first to the sixth team.
    The last three teams in the EPL are Leicester City, QPR and Burnley, with 19, 22 and 25 points respectively.

    Meanwhile, over at the Two-Horse La Liga, the first six teams are spread over 16 points. Barça with 65 points have a 1-point lead over the second Real Madrid. Five of those six teams are involved in European competitions, the only exception being Valencia.
    The last three in La Liga are Cordoba with 18 points, Granada with 22 and Levante with 25.

    The only real difference in the tables is that while in La Liga there are 11 teams spread over 11 points above relegation zone(8th Athletic Bilbao to 18th Levante), in the Premier League it’s 8 teams spread over 10 points (11th Newcastle to 18th Burnley).

    I wonder from the PoV of Real Sociedad(currently tenth), who were for one scary round in relegation, and at the same time at their Anoeta stadium have defeated Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla(First, Second, Fourth and Fifth in La Liga ), while drawing with Valencia(currently Third), which is the more competitive league?

    1. Thanks for this! It’s annoying seeing the same ” most competitive” thing parroted over and over by the EPL defenders on other sites.but they can get away with it because most of those places are home to quick fire responses, not like this which is great. I almost want to just copy paste and spread this around the Internet ha ha.

    2. I see three trends there that are behind this. The firs two are in a positive feedback loop with each other.

      The first is that the insane amount of money in the EPL has indeed raised the competitiveness, not in a way that shows in the standings, but in the amount of effort it takes to play a game win. I will concede that it takes more effort to win away at QPR than to do that against Elche and I expect most will agree. So players are mentally is not so much physically drained by the time CL elimination rounds come. This is a problem one can expect to get even worse with the new TV deal.

      The second is that the “product” that the EPL is selling is not necessarily the kind of football that wins titles internationally. It’s a bit like WWE vs. olympic wrestling. Or maybe junk food is a better metaphor. But the fact is that the average person who watches football around the world, especially in the English-speaking part of it and in the “new markets”, has very little interest in fine tactical details and intricate midfield play – they want to see some fast paced thrilling action. And the EPL delivers that. There is a reason why we have been so often criticized for being boring in the past even though we were playing some of the most beautiful football ever seen. That’s something that they cannot really change even if they understood the problem, wanted to and were able to do something about it. So it will remain a league with lots of running around and teams that eventually get outplayed by continental sides with better midfields.

      The third problem is that the richest clubs in the world are not English, and as a result the very best players are not there either – they play for us, RM, and Bayern. Which actually was not the case a few years ago when EPL teams dominated the CL. The new deal might shift that balance in their favor again.

  9. Also, you might have forgotten about him, but Manchester City shelled upwards of 40 million Euro for one Eliaquim Mangala, the coveted Mangala, Europe’s most promising CB… who wasn’t even in the match squad.

    If you head over to squawka and look at his per 90-min averages in the EPL and Champions, and then compare them to Bartra and Mathieu’s, well…

    1. There is still the next round draw to come, and the match Sunday… Nerves maybe ha ha?

    2. fotobirajesh, I suspect that it’s a mood thing. I know that I have very little interest in commenting here, and I’m a mod. None of the other mods come with any regularity. It’s something that’s been commented on before, so I don’t want to beat a dead horse.

    3. I suspect the people who post here do not like to repeat themselves, and you know the saying about all happy families being alike. So not much to say when we play like that and win.

      A lot more to discuss when we don’t

    4. This is exactly right. Interesting sports talk depends on controversy and differing opinions about players and coaches. I know not as many people are commenting as before, but I really appreciate those that do since it gives me new things to think about when I watch a match.

      All types of fans should feel welcome here and no opinions should be considered taboo. I find most Barca fans are well informed and we are perhaps the most deferential toward our players, and yet some fans are very sensitive when the team is criticized or some fans might feel personally slighted when someone disagrees with their views. Some of this discussion might go back to Kari’s wonderful article which should be reposted to give it the noticeand attention it deserves.

      Anyway, can you imagine our players being whistled and jeered at the Camp Nou like RMs players were after their Schalke victory. Unthinkable. Hopefully, after a good thrashing at Camp Nou, RM will have to go into exile to escape from outraged Madridistas who will chase them out of the capital.

    5. Mod, here. Still reading but not commenting as much. I found that, surprise, being a father consumes quite some time and energy. I’ll get back to writing again, eventually.

    6. That’s very true, and I hope you are doing alright and still find time for yourself. But with time will come opportunity – now my son is three and a half years old, and I can already watch parts of a Barca game with him (though he’s primarily interested in “when will somebody get hurt so the doctor has to get onto the field”).

    7. Could I just say as the father of a twenty something son that it doesn’t get any easier or less time consuming ? Always like to reassure new parents . . .

    8. Well, I don’t think I’m in the sensitive faction but sometimes you just don’t have a lot to say that you haven’t said before. I thought it was a great result, I can’t believe we’ve been lucky enough to have Messi on our team ( and happy now that the CR7 mob will fade away – looking at you Mr Hunter ! ). Btw, he is the best ever. I’m old enough to remember Maradonna well, Pele slightly less so and neither of them had an all round game as complete as Messi. They had moments of genius. Maradonna didn’t win the WC on his own. He had a better team than Messi around him. ( but he’ll always be special to me because of his goal against England! )

      With regard to the team we’re kinda in a wait and see situation. Lots of views have been expressed but we don’t know any answers yet and I think that will change as we get to the real business end. For me, City were in a way a disappointment. They should be much better than they are and in particular Yaya was a disgrace. He is lazy beyond belief and tbh I’m glad he left although like many till I saw Busi grab his chance I wasn’t sure. I’m not happy with the midfield but have said that before, Xavi is being criminally ignored but the form of Messi gets us out of jail for most things and ( just to keep things tidy ) Masche makes another huge error for the penalty by leaping in and getting turned off the throw. Actually, I’m gonna let him off that because of his otherwise good display in the game and his awesome comment about Busi.

      So you see, not a lot new there and there is a point you reach where you just have to see if you’re right or not. The only thing that exercises me at the moment is that comments about the team/ players/ club are seen as being negative and chided/ put down whereas I was one of the few ( and we know who we are) who predicted a trophy this year. It’s those who didn’t who are the negative wave faction. With a squad like this it would be criminal if we didn’t win something.

      I’m not sure I understand why some of the mods don’t comment more. On the internet you have to be big enough to accept you’ll get a variety of responses to anything you say and if you choose to write, like Kxevin, you really stick your head above the parapet. This place, imo, is one of the gentlest you will come across. If someone steps out of line the community will tell them so. Likewise, though, again in my opinion, there are quite a few really good commenters here who won’t just be followers of any opinion expressed but will have their own take. I like that, even as I’d like to see more of the mods writing more often.

      There, is that enough views to be going on with ? 🙂

    9. Masche comments on Busi?? Is there a link or something? I missed it.

      Well, regarding the game, it was pure joy. I understand the frustration about goals and such, but as mentioned above I think at a certain point Messi (and maybe the others) realized it wasn’t going to be a night where the ball would go in. He even seemed a bit bemused by it.

      Other uncategorized impressions were: TerStegen ‘possibly’ learned the limits of his skills. There was no way Aguero wasn’t going to end up with the ball on that one. Man, what a stupid decision. But when they panned out with the camera I saw a line of blaugrana instantly materialize in front of the goal, with Pique in the center and I had the thought that he has well and truly stepped into the space that Puyol left. He seems to have accepted the responsibilities that come with being the senior center back (Masche and Mattheiu notwithstanding).
      About Xavi staying on the bench, well it certainly feels odd, but really if the team is going to grow into the next iteration, they have to make hard choices like that now and then. And I suppose there will be instances where in hindsight it would have been better to use him, but that’s part of growing. He’s probably guiding and teaching the youngsters like there’s no tomorrow in training though.
      And then of course back to messi! At one point in the second half I did a double take when I saw him on the left. Not to mention back in our box and then up front. He was possessed. I really hope to see them go up against Bayern (though not till the final). I think he has a score to settle with Goetze and Schweinsteiger. And Neuer. Fingers crossed.

    10. It’s always like that after a win, not as many comments as after a loss, when everybody has a thing to say. 😀

    11. @dl
      My comment above about Mascherano was a reply to this;

      Mascherano: “Even if that would mean I’d be on the bench, I really hope Busquets can be ready for Sunday. I never can be like him.” #fcblive

  10. Denis Suarez comes on for Sevilla in the 78th minute, a few minutes later initiates an attack and finishes it with a header for the 2-1. Always nice to see…

  11. So based on recent history, this is how different fan bases are looking at the draw:

    Barca Don’t Want Bayern
    Bayern Don’t Want RM
    RM don’t want Atleti
    Atleti don’t want Barca

    Top Three Wish List:
    Bayern v. RM Pep Goes the Weasel
    RM vs Athleti The Curse of Cholo
    Barca vs. Porto The Tello Tie

  12. @RayHudson: “Changed my mind & gonna give my ticket to someone else. I want to see Camp Nou for the first time at Sundays #ElClasico…smart choice,yes?”

    Yes, baby. So Ray will run the Classic commentary live from The Nou Camp on Sunday. I am crying.

    1. Bayern and Juventus has 1 leg in the semis – sorry to say that
      Atletico is going down with their form and not sure RM has got an easy/tough draw
      PSG is gaining form and so are we. We will go through.

    2. Wow, that’s some very tough weeks!

      Better start giving Bartra, Montoya, Adriano and Pedro some serious minutes now so they can take some more later and the regular players can catch a breath.

      Alternatively, wrap up the League before mid-April 😉

  13. So if we go through we’ll face either RM or AM? While the other semifinal might be Bayern Juve?

  14. Sid Lowe actually replied to CR7 fanboy Mourasaint over on the Guardian 😆


    Out of all of the Sid Lowe articles centering on the topic of Messi’s genius, this one ranks pretty highly as my 653rd favorite.


    You need to get help.

    1. Oh I missed that one. Thanks for posting.

      But to be fair to him, recently though, couple of time mourasaint did comment that Messi is currently better, which was unbelievable.

  15. JamesH91

    Another assist. Between scoring himself and assisting others, Messi had now been directly involved in 64 goals this season.

    That means Messi has been directly involved in 1.6 goals per game on average this season. And that’s not counting the countless chances his teammates have wasted (none moreso than tonight), the goals he was instrumental in, the sheer sexual nature of his all-round play.

    And yes I’m typing this one handed.

    [Note: I edited this to remove the f word. Tsk, tsk, tsk, Barça96… you should know better -Levon]

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