Martin Tyler called the second leg of Manchester City's round-of-16 matchup with Barcelona "a strange night for the officials," but that sentiment could easily describe everything on the night. Lionel Messi took advantage of a Joleon Lescott error to open the night's scoring in the 67th minute. His goal put City in a 3-0 aggregate hole, a deficit that left City scrambling to recoup any pride on the night.
Vincent Kompany scored a consolation goal in the 89th to level the match and perhaps give City the satisfaction of a draw in the difficult Camp Nou. Just as in the first leg, though, Dani Alves finished off the match with an antihero goal in stoppage time.
Despite moments that made it look like the miracle was on, City were unable to take advantage and get within a two-goal aggregate deficit. With Manuel Pellegrini ditching both his FA Cup loungewear and his ability to be on the bench, his assistant Ruben Cousillas managed a side that had City fans feeling optimistic before the match.
Sergio Aguero was back, James Milner brought much-needed stamina and physicality into the midfield, Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany still exist--it was understandable for City fans to hope for a miracle. But between Lescott's gaffe(s), poor finishing and comical refereeing, City exit the Champions League with a 4-1 aggregate defeat.
Joleon Lescott almost spared City fans another week of cyclical argument about central defenders. Almost. The defender's awkward touch off his own leg set up Messi one-on-one with Hart, and Messi made no mistake in putting Barca ahead. Lescott's errors won't do much to end the competition between him and Martin Demichelis to partner Vincent Kompany.
In attack, Aguero managed just six touches in his return to the Champions League. With what was reported as hamstring trouble, the striker departed at halftime for Edin Dzeko, who forced a great save from Victor Valdes in the 52nd minute. Had Dzeko's header found its way past Valdes and opened the scoring, the match could have ended much differently.
"Could have" means nothing in football, though, especially when both teams had their share of close calls. Messi rattled Joe Hart's post once; Pablo Zabaleta badly missed in the 54th minute with a shot only a fullback could take.
Let's also establish this: City didn't lose on Wednesday because of Stephane Lannoy's refereeing. Both teams felt the wrath of the Frenchman, whose performance looked like a firefighter bringing matches instead of a water hose. Neymar had a goal disallowed, Joleon Lescott committed what probably should have been a penalty, and Lannoy called multiple fouls on Yaya Toure that seemed only to serve as punishment for being strong.
Lannoy's shining moment, though, came when he ignored Gerard Pique's tackle from behind of Edin Dzeko. In the aftermath of the missed penalty call, Zabaleta's dissent earned him a second yellow card. If Manuel Pellegrini were not serving a ban, his reaction to some of the decisions would have earned him a suspension--and this is an inexact estimate--of around ten years.
I actually thought City might have a chance to come back and win after the demoralizing Alves goal. It wasn't for any footballing reasons, though; I just wasn't quite sure that Lannoy knew matches lasted 90 minutes.
Vincent Kompany, the only correct choice for City's Man of the Match, received a mountain of praise from the Sky Sports analysts after the game, and rightfully so. The captain's five tackles led all players on Wednesday, and his consolation goal also gives him more goals in March than any of City's strikers. Forget about buying a new defender; let's use that money to invest heavily in cloning technology.
Manchester City now turn their hopes to the league, looking to salvage at least half of Pellegrini's supposed quadruple.
Until next time, Champions League.