Barcelona 1-0 Manchester City: Messi seals Champions League quarter-final spot
Nirapad News : Lionel Messi was in one of his supernatural moods, the Nou Camp’s playing surface his own personal ouija board.
With City often held spellbound, this wasn’t so much a football match as a séance.
Only Joe Hart was immune to Messi’s powers – producing a magnificent goalkeeping performance to spare City a trouncing.
Hart pulled off no fewer than ten saves, keeping his team in the tie to such an extent that City almost believed in the impossible for a split-second when Sergio Aguero won a late penalty – only to see his spot-kick saved.
England have one hell of a goalkeeper. Hart has enjoyed nights like this before in the Champions League, most notably against Borussia Dortmund in 2012.
But a keeper can only stand out like this when his team is over-run.
More remarkable is the fact Messi manages to stand out so markedly in a team which includes Luis Suarez, Neymar and Andres Iniesta.
Had you taken Messi out of the Barca team over these three hours of football, you could even argue that City might even have progressed.
Despite a last-gasp penalty miss at the Etihad which kept this tie barely alive, Messi hadn’t been far short of the subliminal in the first leg either.
It is City’s inability to take more than a single point from Burnley which will worry Pellegrini and City’s former Barca bigwigs Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano when the time for reckoning comes.
City have gone backwards this season – but no manager should be judged on a tie like this. This was a night to marvel at Messi. The concerns of Pellegrini and other mortals could wait until sunrise.
Pellegrini had abandoned his 4-4-2 formation, sensibly deciding their might be more than one way to skin a Catalan.
But what use are formations when one man can reduce the champions of England to the status of training-ground dummies?
Neymar had already drilled one against the inside of a post, before Messi played a one-two with Iniesta and Hart saved with his feet.
The little Argentinian had literally begun at walking pace, as if saving himself for Sunday’s Clasico against Real Madrid.
But soon came the sorcery, Messi changing pace and direction as if controlled by some divine joystick – nutmegging Fernandinho, curling a couple of free-kicks narrowly over and scattering City’s defence with his rat-in-a-subway runs.
Pellegrini had warned City they had to be disciplined after red cards in their first legs against Barca both this year and last.
Yet the yellow cards mounted up – Fernandinho, Aleksandar Kolarov, David Silva (harshly) and Samir Nasri all booked before half-time.
When Barca scored on 32 minutes, Messi was the architect – a swivel, a surge and a lofted pass for Ivan Rakitic to lift his shot over Joe Hart and into the net.
Suarez chipped one against the post, determined to join in with the conjuring tricks.
It was sublime stuff, City chasing shadows. Pellegrini, in his technical area, as lonely as the crooner in the Blue Moon anthem.
Messi began the second half with a visionary pass to tee up Jordi Alba, then a withering shot of his own – Hart rescuing City both times.
Jordi Alba had an effort ruled out for offside, with Messi again the supplier – and Hart rushed out to deny Neymar.
When Gerard Pique upended Aguero on 77 minutes, there was a wisp of a hope but keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen tumbled to his right to save.
There was still time for three more stupendous saves from Hart, including a breath-taking effort from Messi.
It is impossible to upstage Messi when he’s in a mood such as this. But Hart came mighty close.