A result Manuel Pellegrini seemed entirely prepared for in a Guardian interview with Sid Lowe, Manchester City entered the day trailing Barcelona 2-1 on aggregate and failed to make up any ground in a 1-0 defeat.
Pellegrini started Bacary Sagna at right back, Vincent Kompany and Martin Demichelis in central defense, chose James Milner over Jesus Navas and deployed Sergio Aguero as a lone striker in notable selections. Aleksandar Kolarov also joined the XI after Gael Clichy's first-leg sending off.
Both teams were scoreless through a half hour--though a Kompany giveaway turned into a Neymar shot off the inside of the post. City didn't look particularly inspiring and received four first-half cautions, but City's performance could have been worse early in the game--then Messi happened.
In the 31st minute, Messi found a streaking Ivan Rakitic for a [insert necessary hyperbole here] pass down the opposite flank. The Croatian midfielder took a touch and then chipped Hart. It didn't change how many goals City needed to win--three to overcome Barca's away goal advantage--but told all of us nearly everything we needed to know about the rest of the game.
Messi's pass helped Barcelona get on the scoreboard for the game's lone goal, but his nutmegs on James Milner and Fernandinho may live forever. Messi's five key passes beat every player on the pitch by at least two, and he had 42 more touches than Sagna's City-leading 74.
City's brightest hope went wasted in the 78th minute when Ter Stegen saved an Aguero's penalty that could have dragged the visitors to within one goal of forcing extra time. After Hart's penalty save in the first leg kept City afloat, Ter Stegen's--on a rather unimpressive effort from Aguero--essentially shut down any hope of a late City rally to force extra time. Had Aguero buried the spot kick, who knows what would have transpired from there?
Barcelona would have scored like 35 goals--a conservative estimate--if not for Hart's performance in goal. Mess, Neymar, Suarez and co. continued to threaten, but Hart handled them admirably giving City's defensive disarray. @OptaJose pointed out Hart's 10 saves were the most by an English keeper in the Champions League since they'd been recording data.
On the other end, City finished with four shots on target: A couple Kolarov shots from distance, a header from Kompany and one from Aguero.
Yaya Toure also made his Champions League return, lasting 71 minutes before being replaced by Bony. A largely anonymous performance from Toure, the Ivorian midfielder failed to impact against his former club.
An early Saturday meeting with West Brom is up next for City, whose focus narrows to catching Chelsea in the Premier League--or at least maintaining their current position in the league.
What'd everyone else think? Aside from Messi's brilliance, what went wrong today for Manchester City? Do you expect it to bring any changes?