A ¼ is not a ‘vulgar’ fraction in arithmetic terms, but it will be decidedly ‘distasteful’ if it represents the sum total of Manchester City’s success by the end of the season.
In the space of 82 hours, City have seen 50% of their targeted trophy haul wiped out by Wigan and Barcelona – can you imagine a stranger juxtaposition than the pie eaters of the North West and European football royalty?
The shock FA Cup exit was in stark contrast with the anticipated departure from the UCL, following the unjust and undeserved 2-0 reversal at the Etihad, three weeks ago.
Nonetheless, City could still exit the ageing, but still visually impressive, expanse of the Nou Camp with heads held high.
With the odds already stacked against them, City were further handicapped when Sergio Aguero was once again cursed with a hamstring problem. It had hindered him from the 10th minute.
His Argentine team mate, Zaba The Lionheart was sent off 67 minutes later, after protesting to French official Stephan Lannoy, about a proverbial ‘stonewall’ penalty.
After the turnip of a Swede referee in the 1st Leg in Manchester, City were having to cope with the gross inadequacies of yet another incompetent ‘yellow peril’ ref who more than lived up to his name – annoying hardly came close – but Le Blithering Bleeding Buffoon, is not a common name in France.
To be fair ‘Msr Irritation’ did the hosts a disservice, by disallowing what appeared to be a legitimate goal by Neymar in the 18th minute.
Prior to that, Lescott could easily have been adjudged to have fouled Messi, not once but twice, and conceded a penalty into the bargain. Nothing was awarded and the stalemate was preserved.
Nonetheless, the clueless Lannoy seemed to be booking City players for anything and everything, while Barcelona committed the same kind of fouls with impunity.
The Champions League is playing a dangerous game by employing these inadequate officials, regardless of their origins. Many seem on a mission to sanitise the UCL into a non-contact sport.
It’s ironic that even as English representatives, City are stacked out with foreign players, and yet, still they play a more robust style than their continental counterparts.
It’s a shame that Lannoy’s, officious approach stopped the flow of the game, and ultimately disabled any chance of a late City rally to level the tie or at least, claim victory on the night.
Going into the game there was a genuine feeling of optimism from City’s massed travelling support in the bars and restaurants in and around the buzzing Las Ramblas strip.
If you were paid a euro for every time the phrase ‘If we can just get an early goal…’ was uttered, it wouldn’t have taken long to muster a deposit for a swanky apartment overlooking Port De Barcelona. Sadly it never came.
It’s a cliché but it’s equally true, when chances come at the highest level of European football they have to be put away. City created sufficient openings but didn’t execute when most needed.
Nasri, Dzeko and Zabaleta all had better than average opportunities, to not only give City a lead, but to actually square the aggregate score.
With Manuel Pellegrini banished to the stand for expressing his opinion that Jonas Eriksson was ‘…biased towards Barcelona’ at the Etihad, it was the expression-less Ruben Cousillas occupying City’s technical area.
City opted to play Sergio Aguero as the lone striker supported by a swarming midfield comprising Yaya Toure, David Silva, Samir Nasri, James Milner and Fernandinho.
Lessons had been learned, City would not be giving Barca the space to play tikky-takky football and effectively surrendering the vital midfield territory.
Pellegrini undoubtedly had the right approach. It was a failure by the players to capitalise when Barcelona were vulnerable.
Of course, there’s always some smart-arse who knows better than the manager, regrettably they’re usually sat behind me!
Some ‘lamented’ to put it mildly, that The Beast was to remain caged at the kick-off and some said Dzeko should start. Some derided Pellegrini or Cousillas (you decide) for Aguero’s non-appearance in the 2nd half, believing it to be tactical, despite advice from texts that it was that bloody hamstring playing up again!
The media in both Spain and England were eager to pour no little derision on City, despite what many neutral observers viewed as a valiant effort.
With very little to lose, City took the game to Barcelona for sustained periods in the second half, having played more on the counter in the initial 45 minutes.
Messi was much more on his game and was giving both Lescott and Kompany palpations from time to time.
The departing Englishman, in particular, was destined to look uncomfortable against the mesmerising Argentine, but in truth Joleon delivered a decent showing in the face of adversity and the presence of genius.
But that didn’t stop him being the fall guy for Barca’s opener when, stumbling, he inadvertently knocked the ball into Messi’s path. The rest is history as Lionel (who would undoubtedly look splendid in sky blue) dinked the ball past a beaten Joe Hart.
It had taken almost 70 minutes for the ‘passionate’ Catalonians to spring into voice and wave their freebie flags around the five-tiered ‘Catherdal’ of the beautiful game.
The City optimists – possibly aided by Spanish beer – said it made no difference as City were always going to have to score three on the night. They still believed that the Nou could be turned blue in the remaining half hour.
The first, could and should have come when Dzeko was felled by Pique – a DRY stone wall penalty to everyone in the Nou Camp, apart from the French Annoyance.
Exasperated – and with every justification – City protested, but the galling Gaul fuelled even greater consternation by dismissing Zabaleta.
Mission Improbable had been upgraded to Mission Impossible.
Displaying the fortitude that is going to be required to claim the title of Champions of England, City went after Barca and delighted the vociferous away support, one that had been so vocal in various parts of the City since Monday afternoon.
The sky blue fans could never have been so close to the heavens (the 5th tier) when asking for divine intervention, and they delighted in Kompany’s 89th minute equaliser from close range, courtesy of Dzeko’s headed assist.
It would have been a fitting and well deserved draw on the night and at least a moral victory, one that wouldn’t damage Barcelona but would irritate their overly smug support.
Sadly it was another irritation – a prickly Brazilian – who massaged the aggregate score into a 4-1 misrepresentation, with Dani Alves scoring a last ditch winner for Catalonia’s favourite sons.
City had been edged by a club which knows its way around the Champions League and all its labrynths, some of them very dark and dank with an accompanying stench…something kicking up a stink and not quite right.
In truth and with hindsight, the Champions League was always going to be a trophy too far this season – unlike the FA Cup.
Pellegrini – has my unswerving support – but by putting so many eggs in the UCL basket, he clucked up a Wembley semi final with Arsenal and a prospective domestic cup double.
Never do things by halves is a good life mantra, unless it means landing ½ of your trophy targets. Pellegrini now has a dozen ‘cup finals’ to win to be able to proclaim himself and his team as ‘Champions’ of England.
By David Walker
A DEDICATION TO SUSAN…
I had hoped that this edition of Read But Never Red would be a joyous celebration of a truly historic victory, one that could be dedicated to a very special woman who was the embodiment of life… vibrant, loving and passionate.
Susan Margaret Walker – my wonderful sister – passed aged just 21 years on March 14 – she was the best sister any man, woman or child could ever have wished for…and I miss her so much. She coped with adversity in her life as City have done so throughout their history.
Here’s hoping Sky Blue Heaven is coming our way…in more ways than one.