Manchester City break Barcelona's spell – but now what?
Pep Guardiola's side finally gets one over on his former club, but there is still work to be done
Manchester City's glorious win over Barcelona in the Champions League yesterday is not just a fine performance but a match with far wider significance.
For City the result "bore all the hallmarks of a seminal moment in the development of this club of unlimited ambition", says Phil McNulty of the BBC.
The win also served as a ringing endorsement of the club's pursuit of its new coach Pep Guardiola. "This was the sort of thunderous celebration of football, and victory, they always had in mind through the years of courting Guardiola," he says.
City made the Champions League semi-finals last season but succumbed meekly to Real Madrid. This felt different. "The sight of Barcelona being beaten in an eye-to-eye thriller will have raised both the pulse rate and expectations."
It wasn't perfect. Barcelona looked poor at the back, and so, too, did City at times. And despite Guardiola's assertion that this was a "cup final" it was, in reality, a non-critical group game for both clubs, says Matt Dickinson of The Times.
"But this was one of those giddy evenings when City fans, especially those who watched their club through years of self-destructive calamities, were allowed to dream that anything is possible under their groundbreaking, deep-thinking leader."
City have taken a lot from Barcelona in terms of personnel and approach and last night they stole their swagger as well, he says.
It could mark the beginning of a new era for the club.
"All across Europe of course, teams have been crying out for evidence that Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar can be knocked off their perch," says Paul Hayward of the Daily Telegraph. "City did it by responding with commendable ferocity to early setbacks."
After going a goal up Barcelona "looked likely to end up taking Guardiola's side home on a key-ring", says Hayward. But City refused to let it happen. "They needed to hurt Barcelona, to prove their fighting spirit, and show Guardiola to be more than just a coach with one good idea."
Spurred on by the rejuvenated Sergio Aguero they did it. "The Barcelona spell is broken and everything is possible," he says.
City "have never had a better night in Europe", says Paul Wilson of The Guardian. He compares the club's coming of age to that of local rivals Manchester United, who endured six years of disappointment until the triumph of 1999.
"This is not to suggest City are on the verge of winning the Champions League, much less pulling off a treble," he says. "[But] City are on their way. Perhaps knockout stage games are a truer test of real strength and merit, but beating Barcelona for the first time in your history is the sort of landmark that cannot do a club on the rise any harm."
Gundogan and De Bruyne sink Barca on famous night for City
Manchester City 3 Barcelona 1
Manchester City stunned Barcelona with an astonishing second half display to register a famous Champions League victory at the Etihad.
City fell behind in the first half but equalised shortly before the break to leave the game nicely poised at the interval. But there was only one team in it after the break as Pep Guardiola's team swarmed all over the Catalans.
Before the match Guardiola had likened the match to a cup final, and City played with a rare verve and passion during a thrilling second 45 minutes in which they totally dominated their illustrious opponents.
Having weathered the Barcelona storm and finished the first half on the front foot, City took the lead just six minutes into the second half thanks to a brilliant free-kick from Kevin de Bruyne.
One of countless City breaks ended with David Silva being fouled 25 yards out on the left-hand side of the box. And De Bruyne calmly stepped up to curl the ball past keeper Andre ter Stegen into the top right-hand corner of the goal.
City had Barcelona on the ropes but, at 2-1, their lead was precarious and the visitors missed a gilt-edged chance to equalise when Andre Gomes fired against the bar. The young Portuguese had only Willy Caballero to beat after a City slip had let in Luis Suarez, but he rattled the underside of the bar.
But City were undaunted and responded in kind, as De Bruyne hit the post a minute later after yet another thrilling break.
By now City's front four of Raheem Sterling, David Silva, Sergio Aguero at De Bruyne were cutting through Barcelona at will, and their dominance continued after Sterling was replaced by Jesus Navas.
The substitute was involved in the crucial third goal after 74 minutes, in a dynamic move that summed up City's performance. It began with a Barcelona corner, but when the ball fell to Messi on the edge of the box he was tackled by Aguero who then led the charge as City counter attacked.
Aguero fed De Bruyne, who in turn found Navas on the right. His cross appeared to hit the onrushing Aguero on the arm in front of goal but he inadvertantly deflected it back towards the penalty spot where Ilkay Gundogan was on hand to smash the ball home.
After that City were never troubled and cruised to a victory that will go down as their best ever in Europe. It will also serve as a statement of intent to the other teams in the Champions League that Guardiola means business.
And what was as striking as City's vibrant attacking play was the way Barcelona's much-vaunted front three of Messi, Suarez and Neymar were totally neutralised in the second half as Barca were over-run.
The Spanish coach had been under some scrutiny after a six-match winless streak but that is now just a memory for the delirious City fans, who will be dreaming of more glorious nights like this at the Etihad.