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Hart head and shoulders above all, but Man City make CL exit at Barca

| 19.03.2015

England expects every man will do his duty. Only Joe Hart was worthy of those famous words, as the Three Lions goalie made save after save, and still Manchester City lost in the Nou Camp to Barcelona, ending all hope of a Premier League side reaching the Champions League quarter-finals.

Manuel Pellegrini’s men are six points adrift of Chelsea in the bid to retain their title, and Coral offer odds of 14/1 on the trophy remaining at the Etihad. Without seeing Jose Mourinho slip up, the Chilean coach should consider his job prospects bleak.

Whether it’s tragic or ironic depends on your point of view, but City failed utterly to learn a crystal clear lesson from the first leg; Barcelona have changed things up tactically. On a night when Pellegrini needed his spine to be solid, he saw the Catalan giants cut through his charges like Toledo’s famed Spanish steel blades through butter.

City skipper Vincent Kompany’s slump continued, and the Belgian centre back was fortunate not to see his early dawdling in possession punished by Neymar, who hit the base of the post early on. Barca went up through the gears rapidly, with Hart then needing to be at his best to deny Lionel Messi with his legs after a lightning quick one-two with Andres Iniesta.

On half an hour, the hosts extended their aggregate advantage to 3-1 with another superb piece of counter-attacking play. Barcelona boss Luis Enrique’s innovation of their style was applauded by one of his predecessors Pep Guardiola, watching on from the Nou Camp crowd.

Messi, who was magnificent throughout and did everything but score, switched play superbly on the break from right to left, finding Barca summer buy Ivan Rakitic. The Croatia midfielder chested down this crossfield pass before deftly lobbing Hart.

Staggering City were lucky to go in on the night just one down at half time, with first leg threat Luis Suarez missing two late efforts. A free header from a corner sailed wide before the Uruguay and ex-Liverpool frontman chipped Hart, but saw the ball kiss the far post when found by a clever Neymar through-ball.

That South American star trio leading Barca’s attack were a constant menace after the break. Messi teed up Suarez to shoot into the side-netting, before the Argentina captain rounded Hart but missed the target from an always narrowing angle.

Jordi Alba had a goal rightly ruled out for offside when tapping in the rebound from Neymar, which Hart spilled. Time and time again City’s defence played a suicidally high line, which on another night would have seen them well and truly humbled by a huge scoreline.

Pellegrini had the faintest glimmer of hope when Sergio Aguero got sandwiched between compatriot Javier Mascherano and Gerard Pique inside the Barcelona box, but his poor penalty was wasted and easily saved by Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Hart denied Neymar and somehow Messi again with Enrique’s outfit enjoying a four-on-two counter-attack advantage. Between these superb stops from England and the Etihad’s number one, Suarez contrived to hit the crossbar from eight yards.

A trophyless season now looks inevitable for City, and Pellegrini looks likely to pay the price. The winds of change for playing personnel too will be set as well, with Middle Eastern owner Sheikh Mansour readying reinvestment in an Etihad squad that has never acquitted itself in Europe’s elite club competition.

As for Barca, only Guardiola’s Bayern Munich (9/4 favourites) are more fancied for Champions League glory than his old side. Evolution under Enrique was necessary from the stale lullaby of tiki taka. This new Barcelona are 11/4 to lift a fourth European Cup in a decade.



Jamie Clark

Athletics aficionado, die-hard snooker fan and Crystal Palace supporter Jamie has written for Coral since February 2014 after spells with Soccerlens and the Press Association as a digital journalist and copywriter. A former East Midlands sports correspondent and Bwin tipster, he is a graduate of both the University of York and University of Sheffield, with a Masters in web journalism from the latter.