BARCELONA Lionel Messi’s coolly taken goal settled nerves in the Camp Nou as Barcelona beat Manchester City 2-1 and sealed a 4-1 aggregate passage to the quarterfinals.
Barca went into the game reeling from poor La Liga form, and even with a two-goal advantage there was anxiety among the home crowd before kick-off. But the blaugrana players were plugged in from the start and only a poor refereeing performance from Frenchman Stephane Lannoy kept the tie alive until the second half when Messi fired in after another Joleon Lescott mishap in defense.
A frantic close to the game brought goals at either end from Vincent Kompany and Dani Alves, but by then it was clear that City had been outclassed over both games — and Barca remains a real challenger for this season’s competition.
Lead by an energized Messi, Barcelona began the game quicker to every ball, as when Lescott arrived late and took out the Argentine for what should have been a penalty. Ref Lannoy missed that, and his assistant also erred in signaling Jordi Alba offside before he crossed for Neymar to tap into an empty net. His shoddy performance made City coach Manuel Pellegrini’s claims of a pro-Barca UEFA conspiracy, put forward after the first leg, look even more daft.
The home fans’ pre-games nerves had calmed, and there were regular ripples of warm applause as Sergio Busquets and Xavi Hernandez moved the ball calmly through midfield. The only concerns came when former blaugrana midfielder Yaya Toure drove through midfield for City. He led one nice first half move which gave David Silva a chance to shoot – but the Spain international skied his effort well over. Another rare opposition attack saw Silva’s perfect back-heel open up Barca’s back-line, only for Samir Nasri to shoot straight at home keeper Victor Valdes.
But the traffic was mostly going the other way, with Messi and Neymar showing signs of finally building an on-field relationship. The Argentine’s brilliant turn and change of pace saw him beat three men, but the pass to the Brazilian was just too strongly hit and the eventual shot was headed from the line by Fernandinho.
Sergio Aguero was withdrawn at half-time due to a hamstring problem, with the more physical Edin Dzeko entering. City then had their one real spell of pressure – with Dzeko’s header from Alexsandar Kolarov’s cross bringing another flying Valdes save. Moments later Pablo Zabaleta skied an even better chance with his bad [left] foot from 10 yards.
The English team was really going for it and throwing both full-backs forward into attack. Now the nerves were creeping back, on and off the pitch. But just when he was needed Messi appeared again, pouncing on yet another Lescott mistake to slip the ball confidently past Hart to the net. That was really that.
City’s dismay was complete when Zabaleta was sent off for protesting too much after Dzeko claimed a penalty. The Argentine defender was correct – replays showed that Gerard Pique had fouled him — but it was too late. Even Kompany’s late scrambled goal [the latest Barca have conceded direct from a set-piece] counted for little with Alves soon restoring the three-goal difference after a spell of penalty box ping-pong at the other end.
This may be slim consolation, but Pellegrini’s men can now focus all their energies on the Premier League, and hauling back Chelsea’s nine point lead. They might also consider buying a top centre-half this summer, given the role played by Martin Demichelis and Lescott in this latest early European exit.
Barca march on while still searching for consistency, but can argue it has made the last eight of the competition for a record seventh consecutive year. Messi and company showed here they are a long way from done just yet.
In the day’s other game, Paris Saint-Germain – Bayer Leverkusen, was assumed over before it started. After all, PSG had won the first leg 4-0 away, and Leverkusen manager Sami Hyypia seemed to be throwing in the towel, benching his star striker Stefan Kiessling in an apparent sign of resignation, even if the big target man currently languishes in the doldrums of a long scoring drought.
During the game’s opening spell, however, the tie’s death seemed premature. Leverkusen turned up composed and zealous on the counter, and they quickly went ahead. In just the sixth minute, Sidney Sam rose high on a precise Giulio Donati cross and wrong-footed Salvatore Sirigu by heading it to his near post.
But seven minutes later, the coroner was able to establish a time of death. PSG’s Marquinhos, who had been culpable on Sam’s goal, towered over his peers on a Yohan Cabaye corner and slammed home a header of his own. With the aggregate score now at 5-1, the game slipped into a long and deep slumber.
Not a whole lot else would happen. The incomparable Zlatan Ibrahimovic sent a daring chip kissing off Bernd Leno’s cross bar. In the 28th minute, Christophe Jallet pulled Eren Derdiyok down by his jersey in his own box and conceded a penalty. But Sirigu soared to his left and slapped Simon Rolfes’ half-decently taken spot kick wide.
Early in the second half, PSG put the nail in Leverkusen’s coffin. Lucas Digne overlapped on the left and cut his pass back for the onrushing Ezequiel Lavezzi, who smacked the ball home with a tidy finish to make it 2-1. A little while later, Bayer’s Emre Can was sent off with his second yellow card – the first for a non-foul; the second for a pseudo-dive.
Moneyed Paris Saint-Germain have matched their continental performance of last year by reaching the quarterfinals. Their assault on the European top continues.
Leander Schaerlaeckens contributed to this report.