Man City still in awe of Europe's big guns

Wed Feb 25, 2015 5:27am EST
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MANCHESTER (Reuters) - Manchester City had the perfect opportunity to prove they belong with Europe's elite on Tuesday but the Premier League champions blew it.

A 2-1 loss to Barcelona at the Etihad Stadium barely hinted at the disparity on the pitch.

While City will go to the Nou Camp next month for the second leg of this Champions League, last 16 tie still afloat, they will need to conjure something remarkable to reach the quarter-finals for the first time.

For all the pre-match talk of "no fear" and "fighting fire with fire" Manuel Pellegrini's side were overwhelmed by a rampant Barcelona before halftime, lacking self-belief.

Luis Suarez scored twice, Lionel Messi cut through City's lines like a knife through butter and Neymar teased on the left and Andres Iniesta was masterful, keeping Barca's passing carousel turning at a dizzying speed.

For all the impressive infrastructure the club has built with the money invested by their Abu Dhabi owners, the world-class training complex adjacent to the expanding Etihad Stadium, the squad has too many weak links.

In 14 Champions League home ties they have only kept one clean sheet. While rivals Manchester United's Old Trafford ground used to be a fortress, City often look cowed when facing the big guns on their home turf.

Looking at the starting line-ups it was hard to make a case for more than a couple of City players making the Barcelona first eleven. Tactically they looked naive.

So it was a surprise to hear Pellegrini say afterwards that his side had played exactly the way he wanted.   Continued...

Barcelona's Lionel Messi after having his penalty saved by Manchester City's Joe Hart
Reuters / Phil Noble Livepic