The lid comes off as City struggle to assert themselves

Posted by Simon Curtis

Manuel PellegrinEmpicsMan City manager Manuel Pellegrini is a man of few words.

At last the top has come off. Manuel Pellegrini, wavering between near silence and diffident caution in his first season under the Premier League arc lights, finally blew off his carefully placed tin lid in spectacular fashion, intimating that Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson was righting previous wrongs in his incorrect calling of the penalty and red card that sealed City’s fate in this Champions League knockout-round game.

If the Swedish official, clearly slightly starstruck by Barcelona’s whirring legs, had done something wrong in a previous life, he could not have expected deeper inspection of his evening’s work.

Contact outside the box? Continued contact into the box? Contact with a trailing leg? All immaterial by the end of this absorbing match, but it was the focus of much hot air drifting across the Etihad greensward after this game. What was unquestionable was that Martin Demichelis, once more showcasing his sausage-like speed off the mark, had arrived too late to postpone the party. As Messi -- hitherto having a reasonably quiet game, thanks to the limpet-like attention of Vincent Kompany -- skipped through and was unceremoniously dumped on his backside by a fellow Argentine leg.

Protest in such cases remains futile, but City’s players mustered enough strength of conviction to flap their arms in front of the convinced Scandanavian. Pellegrini, similarly unimpressed by the official’s decision-making, will now be the focus of some interesting media attention in the days that come. This might have been the one moment to keep his counsel.

The occasion had started well with a mosaic stretching around the ground and the kind of tingling anticipation that only comes with this kind of visitor to the Etihad. Barcelona, European aristocrats and perennial Champions League poster boys in town to play City. The week had begun with tributes to the likes of Ronnie Ekelund and Mark Hughes, employees of both sides in the past, of Gillingham and Macclesfield, City’s opponents 15 short years ago and of the colossal difference to the place the club now inhabits in the greater scheme of things.

The game’s start was slow, the two sides feeling each other out, with City playing a patient European-style game, allowing the visitors to hog possession and take territorial control. Some might have said the faster, more aggressive starts, typical of City’s opening minutes in domestic competition, purveyor of many a goal and many a disheveled visiting defence in recent times, could perhaps have worked better than sitting back and letting Barcelona have their way. This, however, is the Champions League, where considered opinion is that this kind of cerebral sparring is the done thing. What gives English clubs a fighting chance -- their energy and passion -- is therefore sterilised before anyone can get the wrong opinion of our jogo bonito credentials.

Barcelona, supposedly suffering from waning powers, will return to Catalonia in the knowledge that the job is now more than half done. For City to advance, the earth will have to shift a little off its axis, the planet will have to revolve that little bit quicker and City’s XI will have to secure what would be the club’s greatest feat in their long and fascinating history. The thousands who will follow the Blues to sunny Barcelona will travel in the hope of witnessing the Miracle of the Sagrada Familia, but in the clear knowledge that City’s Champions League adventure may be about to grind to a halt for another year.


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