Barcelona's style triumphs once again

Posted by Dermot Ledwith

Barcelona could not have hoped for a better result in their round of 16 clash when the Champions League resumed play on Tuesday. The 2-0 advantage is a mountain to climb for Manchester City in the Camp Nou, and Barca can be rightly confident of progress: they have never lost any of the nine European ties in which they have taken a 2-0 aggregate lead into the second leg.

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- Report: Barca brush off Pellegrini claims

Once again, Barca's DNA, their controlled passing play, carried the side to triumph. Refereeing decisions apart, Barca deserved the win in a game in which they always seemed to control, and a number of players put in performances that flew in the face of what was supposedly the demise of a great team, an exaggeration if there ever was one.

All season there has been a queue of pundits ready to write off Xavi Hernandez, who turned 34 last month, a midfielder who more than anybody is identified with the recent success of Barca and Spain. He was rested for the 6-0 win in the league on Saturday, but on Tuesday he was at the heart of this performance directing the orchestra from deep in midfield.

His partner in crime is Andres Iniesta and Barca have struggled to get both of them on the pitch together this season, but for the biggest challenge yet against City they were both available to pass their opponent into submission. Iniesta hit the brilliant ball for Lionel Messi that led to the controversial penalty and dismissal of Martin Demichelis.

Messi changed the game with that run during which he was brought down, either inside or just outside the area, and it was he who converted the penalty. Manchester City may feel aggrieved, but tight games are decided by such moments. Demichelis made a desperate lunge that stopped Messi advancing on the City goal; he could have pulled out of the challenge and allowed Joe Hart to save the day, but he did not.

Messi coolly placed the penalty straight down the middle, having surely spotted Hart making a move a split second before hitting it. With that, he managed to hit his first goal on English soil. After eight games, Messi had not managed to score on the ground of a Premier League opponent, another record broken and less ammunition for Barca's critics.

These people do exist; normally armchair fans who use social media as an outlet for their complaints. They declare Barca's style of play to be boring; pass, pass and pass again; keep the ball moving. The theory that Barca do not allow for open exciting games by cautiously keeping the ball has seemingly grown more ridiculous as the years go by.

The important point that is often missed is Barca are welded unconditionally to this style of play, a plan that does not change regardless of the opponent. Manchester City is a club with a model in its infancy, but the suspicion is they want to copy Barca and pass the ball on the ground; they have certainly been the best purveyor of that kind of football in the Premier League this season.

However, while Manuel Pellegrini had declared prematch that his side would not be changing its attacking style, there was little evidence of their hurting Barca on the ground. Starting very deep, the few chances City did create came from high balls, obviously an area where they thought they could expose Barca.

Twice in the first half, Victor Valdes was called on to deal with high balls played up for Alvaro Negredo. City's tactic was to hurt Barca aerially; the premise being that Barca can't defend at height, but in the end it was their own centre-half partnership that let them down.

When Iniesta cleverly picked out the space in which Messi had floated between Demichelis and Vincent Kompany on 54 minutes, a goal was the most likely outcome.

Whether or not you agree that the referee was decisive in the outcome of the game, the theory presented by City coach Pellegrini afterward that the referee, Jonas Eriksson, was making up for mistakes made against Barca two seasons ago is just plain ridiculous. Eriksson did, however, make a number of controversial decisions: For example, there was a handball that went unpunished by Gael Clichy in the City area in the first half and a second Barca goal ruled offside with 10 minutes to go.

Barca were patient and biding their time, with a player less it is almost impossible to contest possession of the ball with them, but City battled valiantly and again caused some trouble late on in the Barca area.

However it was Dani Alves in the 90th minute who took advantage of Barca's built-in computer to get forward for the umpteenth time, and he combined with Neymar to attack City deep inside their own area; 2-0 and the tie is all but over. Barca's style of play once again triumphs over an opponent lacking its own; the rest are just complaints.

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