To quote professional wrestler Daniel Bryan, “Yes! Yes! YES!”. Manchester City beat Spanish giants Barcelona 3-1 at the Etihad Tuesday night, and oh what a night it was. When the club announced the immenent arrival of Pep Guardiola last January this was the kind of result City fans saw in their dreams. It wasn't always easy, never is with City, but in the end the players got a historic, and very much deserved, result.
Aside from the historical significance of the victory, the three points were actually quite crucial for Man City in their hopes of qualification in the Champions League. A draw between fellow group teams Celtic and Borussia Mönchengladbach means City can clinch their place in the round of 16 later this month in Germany. It will still take a slip up for City to pip Barça for the top spot, but getting into the Round of 16 is just step one for this City side no matter who they play.
The game in question was an absolute wonder to watch. Back and forth action, plenty of great sequences and some of the best players in the world put some of the best football on display in this one. Barcelona opened the scoring through Lionel Messi early in the first half. Barça looked for a second and seemed destined to waltz to victory, but a mistake opened the door and Ilkay Gundogan came knocking.
After the half with the score at 1-1 City seemed to come out a different team for the second half. A switch in tactics and formation lead to City completely dominating the midfield and a beautiful De Bruyne free-kick ended up being the winner. City were able to neutralize Messi, Suárez and Neymar through hard work and tough tackling.
Below are our player ratings for this match, along with our City Man of the Match. Spoiler alert there’s a lot of high numbers below. Be sure to comment below!
Willy Caballero: 7.0
When the Argentine was called upon he was entirely capable. Some supporters might have been nervous without Claudio Bravo but as he proved in the League Cup run last year, Caballero can more than hold his own.
Pablo Zabaleta: 8.0
This might sound like an exaggeration but Pablo Zabaleta played his best game in probably two-plus years. Holding Neymar in check and covering for Nicolas Otamendi, the Argentine warrior was exactly that on Tuesday evening. Wearing the captain's armband, Zabaleta taught a masterclass on what it means to be club captain.
John Stones: 7.5
A very solid game from Stones. A slightly wayward pass lead to Barça’s best chance in the second half, but that was after an excellent pressing play by the Englishman. Defensively holding Luis Suárez off the scoresheet is always a big win on the night.
Nicolas Otamendi: 7.0
The Argentine might have had a few rash challenges and was nutmegged in the build-up to Gomes’ crossbar hit, but overall the Argentine had a good game. It really takes a team effort to hold Barcelona to only one goal and that wouldn't have been possible with any defense underperforming.
Aleksandar Kolarov: 7.5
This was Aleks Kolarov’s best defensive performance in quite some time. The Serbian defender has had good games this season, but usually they revolve around his passing and link to the attack. Tuesday, Kolarov had to contain some of the world’s best attackers and he did a splendid job. Aleks was also robbed of an assist on a wonderful pass right across the six yard box in the second half.
Despite only playing 60 minutes, the Brazilian midfielder had an imprint all over this game. Of all the players running out of their City contracts it’s easy to see why Pep is so eager to keep Fernandinho around. When you have great offensive midfielders like Gundogan, Silva, and De Bruyne, you need a Fernandinho to mop up for them. The Brazilian did that very well in this game.
Kevin De Bruyne: 9.0 (City Man of the Match)
Oh Kevin De Bruyne! An absolute dominant performance from the Belgian. Playing more throughout he middle as almost an auxiliary striker next to Aguero, De Bruyne was absolutely fantastic in this one. His pass to Navas in the lead up to City’s third goal is a pass that 95% of players would overhit for a goal kick. I’m not sure much more can be said about how special De Bruyne is, his free-kick goal was absolute class.
David Silva: 8.0
The Spaniard was at his best when City needed him Tuesday night. Silva isn't the fleetest of foot so his dribbling and passing has always been top class and the former was especially on display in this one. Silva might not always make it to the scoresheet, but his buildup play is what makes City tick.
Ilkay Gundogan: 9.0
City’s number 8 is very reminiscent of another famous number 8 in England. Chelsea midfielder Frank Lamprd always had a knack for scoring goals from the midfield. Whether it was a long range effort or arriving in the box at the right time, Gundogan seems to have a similar ability. Four goals in his last two games is hopefully a sign of things to come in his City career.
Raheem Sterling: 8.0
One has to wonder how different this game would have been if Sterling was given his early penalty shout. In the end everything worked out and City supporters will be delighted it did because Sterling was probably unlucky to be carded in that situation. Before and after that Sterling had his way with Barcelona’s left-back, once again showing his best on European nights.
Sergio Agüero: 8.5
He might not have found the back of the net, but Agüero played extremely well in this game. Barça’s defenders, including Busquets, might have nightmares about the diminutive Argentine until the weekend. Agüero regularly used his pace to get behind defenders and found City’s midfielders trailing the play.
The Brazilian was brought on at the 60-minute mark to sure up the defense and give a break for Fernandinho. I’ll admit, I was nervous but Fernando played very well in the deep role breaking up Barça’s attacks. It helped that all of City’s midfielders were dropping deeper to help out of course.
Jesus Navas: 7.5
The Spaniard was clearly brought on to run and hopefully see the game out, and he did more than just that! Navas played very well and obviously had a huge hand in Gundogan’s second goal.
No real time to mark as City’s other Spanish winger came on very late on.
So that’s our ratings! I’m sure City fans will be buzzing about this result for more than a few days. The important thing now is to take care of business at the Etihad on Saturday going into the international break. City’s Champions League ambitions should be sky high right now, but focus must shift to the Premier League as we’ve seen it’s easy for teams to be tripped up recently in the world’s most exciting league!