Manchester City’s Champions League hopes were mashed to a pulp by a Swede masquerading as a turnip.
Multi-millionaire referee Jonas Eriksson – a former journalist from the picturesque town of Sigtuna, north of Stockholm – is a man who seems to revel in the spotlight.
He made his money when he sold his share in a sports media rights business seven years ago, so one assumes there’s no problems when it comes to his banking department!
So, if he doesn’t need the dosh and isn’t receptive to bribery there’s only one conclusion – he’s an egotistical prat who craves controversy to pump up his own sense of self importance.
Arrogance doesn’t come close when observing this scandalous Scandinavian at the Etihad. The rangy 40-year old did more damage to City’s CL aspirations than Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and Neymar combined.
Aided by his side helping of ‘vegetables’, namely the quartet of assistants and additional assistants, Eriksson cooked up a casserole of rank incompetence that incensed the normally placid Manuel Pellegrini.
The City boss, usually cool, composed and unruffled, let rip with a swingeing swipe at the Swede’s ‘lack of impartiality’ and alleged favouritism towards Messi & Co.
Pellegrini had a point. The Swede was pedantic to an extent where it appeared Champions League football had been re-categorised as a non-contact sport.
Paradoxically, Eriksson deemed it ok for Sergio Busquets to foul Jesus Navas, immediately preceding the penalty that should never have been.
The crescendo of noise from the so-called ‘experts’ claiming it was a bona fide spot kick is as lamentable as it is indefensible.
Martin Demichelis was rightly shown the red card for his desperate lunge at Messi in the 53rd minute, but contact was clearly initiated outside of City’s 18-yard box. It wasn’t a penalty – period.
Maybe the veteran Argentine defender thought it was worth ‘taking one for the team’, as he saw the magical Messi pulling away from him, on the basis it would be a free kick, NOT a penalty.
For all of their neat tippy-tappy passing and overwhelming possession statistics, Barcelona had hardly threatened Joe Hart’s goal, the notable exception being Xavi’s speculative pile driver that the England keeper did well to parry to safety.
It would be churlish to suggest City deserved to win – they didn’t – but one wonders if they hadn’t conceded at that stage, whether Pellegrini’s tactics would have born fruit.
Conversely, Manchester United-loving Gerard Piques’ disallowed goal should have stood, but would it have occurred if City hadn’t been pressing for an equaliser?
Prima facie it was a very un-Pellegrini selection, one whereby he DID for once, alter City’s all out attacking mantra. Many questioned the selection of Kolarov as a left midfielder and Demichelis, even in his preferred centre back position.
The tactical change up, to match Barcelona’s midfield manpower and leave Negredo as a sole frontman, had merit.
Sadly it all went to pot as Messi executed the penalty and Demichelis went for his early shower.
For the best part of 40-plus minutes, City manfully defended with 10 men, but also created more chances than with the full complement of 11.
The standout opportunity was created down the right flank with Pablo Zabaleta passing through to the sublime David Silva, whose rasping RIGHT FOOT drive drew a brilliant save from Victor Valdes in the Barca goal.
Now we know Merlin has a right foot that isn’t just for standing, we might see more of it in the future. The one and only criticism of Silva is that he doesn’t shoot often enough.
In defeat, City tend not to announce a Man of The Match, but Silva was probably it. Either the Spaniard or Vincent Kompany, who was a man on a mission playing to world class standards and taking no prisoners.
He had Messi in his pocket most of the night. Tellingly, the only exception coming when the Argentine master scurried away from Demichelis.
This was a night when City, perhaps adapting to a strategy of more restraint than usual, seemed strangely timid in the opening 25 minutes.
The term ‘showing them too much respect’ jumps out of the book of football clichés, but whatever it was, it wasn’t easy on the eye and took an initially boisterous Etihad crowd, out of the equation.
Undoubtedly there is an aura that accompanies FC Barcelona wherever they go. How many of last night’s City support would have seen Messi ‘in the flesh’ – a small minority, and it was as if City were playing the occasion rather than the match.
Over the years – the Guardiola period especially – Barcelona were revered as THE best club side in living memory. But, close up and personal, they were nowhere near as awesome as Bayern Munich
With hindsight, one wonders if Pellegrini’s deliberate blunting of the City attack was pre-curser for the Catalonian club controlling the play.
The Beast was too often an isolated figure up front and, given the welcome return of Fernandinho, it was strange seeing Yaya lying so deep when City are more productive with the Ivorian leading the charge.
It was an energy sapping experience for City and to hear misguided criticism of the likes of Negredo and Clichy, in particular, seems harsh. They, and the team as a whole, were dead on their feet in the closing stages, hence Dani Alves’ late strike.
Alves had been a pain both before and during the game, running his mouth in the run-up and then letting his play do the talking. Rather like a shaved or waxed area of the female form, Senor Alves was a very irritating Brazilian.
Barcelona’s second goal appears to have killed off the tie according to esteemed football experts of the calibre of ex-Manure assassin Roy Keane.
One large pinch of salt later, who is to say that a Sergio Aguero-inspired City can’t snatch the lead at the Nou Camp in 21 days time, and go on to test a potentially rocky Barca back four?
The ‘outspoken’ Pellegrini will probably be banned from the touch line if UEFA penalise the mild-mannered City manager for simply echoing the thoughts of 45,000 fans on the night. Operation ‘Comeback’ can still go ahead on March 12 with Pellegrini in the stand.
Travelling City fans may find time to enrich their lives with the architectural works of Catalan genius Antoni Gaudi,who created stunning buildings, including the Sagrada Familia and Park Güell.
Tragically, Gaudi was killed in 1926 after being hit by a tram.
Similarly, if Manuel’s marauders can get up a head of steam who’s to say City cannot send Barca careering into the buffers, confound all the critics and make a turnip look a right ‘Kroppkakor’ …that’s a Swedish dumpling for you non-international culinary types!
By David Walker