Lionel Messi turns Guardiola's dream into a nightmare
Man City humbled by Barcelona as Claudio Bravo is sent off and Messi scores hat-trick in 4-0 win
Barcelona 4 Manchester City 0
Pep Guardiola's return to the Camp Nou turned into a nightmare as his Manchester City side were battered by Barcelona. The 4-0 thrashing was a stark reminder to the Spaniard of the gulf in class between the Citizens and the Catalans, and indeed the chasm that separates the best the Premier League has to offer with quality at the top end of La Liga.
City have led the Premier League since the start of the season but it was men against boys in the Champions League on Wednesday night with Lionel Messi the king of the Camp Nou.
The Argentine striker scored his seventh Champions League hat-trick as Barcelona humiliated another of Britain's finest on their home patch.
Last month it was Celtic, hammered 7-0, and City's destruction means that the Spanish giants lead Group C by five points with City one point ahead of Borussia Monchengladbach, who beat Celtic 2-0 in Glasgow.
During his time in charge of Barcelona, Guardiola guided them to 14 titles, including two Champions League triumphs, but he has not enjoyed his return visits to his old stamping ground.
When he was manager of Bayern Munich he saw Barcelona inflict a 3-0 defeat on the German champions and last night's scoreline was another grim night for Guardiola.
It began to go wrong on 17 minutes when Fernandinho's slip gave Messi the opportunity to celebrate his return from injury with the first of his three goals.
Although City - deploying Kevin De Bruyne in a false nine position, with Raheem Sterling, David Silva and Nolito in support and Sergio Aguero on the bench - recovered and created moments of their own in the first half their finishing let them down. John Stones, in particular, had a glorious chance to level the scores from a David Silva free-kick but he fluffed his header.
City's hopes of salvaging anything from the match became virtually impossible on 53 minutes when goalkeeper Claudio Bravo was sent off for handling the ball outside the box. The so-called sweeper keeper came rushing out of the area but passed the ball straight to Luis Suarez and then threw up his hands when the striker tried to lob him.
Reduced to ten men, City were soon trailing by two goals as Messi fired home from the edge of the box.
Ilkay Gundogan gifted Messi his hat-trick on 69 minutes with a wayward ball that was seized on by Suarez. The former Liverpool striker picked out Messi and the Argentine did the rest, scoring his 16th goal in 15 games against English opposition.
Barcelona lost a man themselves when Jeremy Mathieu was shown a second yellow card for a foul on Raheem Sterling, but it made no difference to the one-sided nature of the game.
City's substitute Willy Caballero did manage to save a Neymar penalty, but on a night when nothing went right for the visitors the Brazilian made amends a minute from time as he danced through the City defence and stroked the ball home.
"It's difficult enough to play Barcelona with 11 men," reflected Guardiola. "With ten the game was over. Until then the game was open. Up to that point there aren't many regrets. We'd created enough chances and arrived at the byline many times. We played with huge personality and we did create two or three clear chances."
A contrite Bravo, who was signed from Barcelona in the summer, admitted his blunder had contributed to City's demise, telling reporters: "It is a game of mistakes and correct decisions. It's just bad luck that I was the person that changed the course of the game."
Despite the result - which leaves City without a win in their last four matches in all competitions - Guardiola tried to struck an upbeat note. "We are a new club, getting to know each other in a process," he explained. "My perception is that we did well, knowing where we've come from and who we are. We've been brave."
Why Barcelona vs Man City will be better than Liverpool vs Man Utd
After the damp squib that was Liverpool vs Manchester United on Monday night, the blue half of Manchester will be hoping to emphasise the gulf that has emerged between them and their North-West rivals as they take on Barcelona in the Champions League.
The mouthwatering clash sees City manager Pep Guardiola return to the club where he established himself as the most sought-after coach in the game after winning 14 trophies in four years.
Having taken over at City in the summer he remains a footballing idealist and it is almost universally accepted that he will eschew the type of pragmatism that was on display at Anfield and which so often ruins big occasions.
The match "promises to be everything that Liverpool-United was not", says Henry Winter of The Times. "There will be no temptation for either coach to park the bus at the Nou Camp tonight; no urge to start time-wasting well before the final whistle; or to rein in the attacking talents of the players on show."
Guardiola and Barcelona coach Luis Enrique are lifelong friends, he says, but they "will throw everything they have at each other" at the Camp Nou. The encounter "should reaffirm our faith in the game", adds Winter. "This should be total football, not a total washout."
The problem for City fans is that their early season form has dipped. It's as if the Guardiola honeymoon has come to an end as the grind of the season takes hold.
Will the prospect of a game against Barcelona change things?
"Ever since the draw was made Pep Guardiola's homecoming has been the standout attraction of the Champions League group stage but City supporters must be wondering which of his sides is going to turn up," says Paul Wilson of The Guardian. "The one that opened the season with ten straight wins or the one more recently held by Celtic and Everton, with a comprehensive beating at Tottenham in between."
But Barcelona's excellence and refusal to change tactics may make Guardiola's job easier, says Wilson.
"The one thing on which everyone can agree is Barcelona are a top team and, for all the excellent players at Guardiola's disposal, City are not quite at their level yet," he says. "That is what we think now, at any rate. If perceptions are about to be changed, Camp Nou is a good place to start and Guardiola a handy manager to have in charge."
So how can he overcome his old team? JJ Bull of the Daily Telegraph notes that despite Guardiola's adherence to footballing principles his tactics vary from game to game.
"The only constants are that the wide forwards – usually Nolito and Raheem Sterling – hug the touchline and Fernandinho protects the space between defence and midfield," he says, and the coach often plays tricks with his full-backs, sometimes employing them as midfielders and sometimes as auxiliary wingers.
"On the team sheet City usually look like a 4-1-4-1, with player instructions making this evolve into any number of different formations during a match," says Bull. "Guardiola wants to dominate space, not possession, and creates systems that allow his players to receive the ball in areas of the pitch that they can be dangerous."
The only thing that is certain is that Guardiola will have thought long and hard about how to beat his old team, and will go out intending to get the better of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, rather than keeping them at bay.