Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Manchester City 3-1 Barcelona: 'The night Pep Guardiola really arrived'


Manchester City's outstanding Champions League victory over Barcelona bore all the hallmarks of a seminal moment in the development of this club of unlimited ambition.

Barca were finally overcome at the sixth time of asking on a scintillating night at Etihad Stadium, the 3-1 victory a fair reflection of the manner in which City wrested superiority from the side that beat them 4-0 in the Nou Camp a fortnight ago.

And for City manager Pep Guardiola, this was much more than a result that redressed the balance in Champions League Group C.

Guardiola's revolution takes off

City's lengthy pursuit of Guardiola finally came to fruition when it was announced on 1 February that he would join the club after leaving Bayern Munich.

It was the crucial move City's Abu Dhabi-based hierarchy had been working towards for years, with an infrastructure already based heavily on the one the Spaniard had at Barcelona, with his old friend and former colleague Txiki Begiristain as director of football, and Ferran Soriano as chief executive.

City's house was effectively built in readiness for Guardiola's arrival, and his appointment was the day they had been planning for.

Begiristain and Soriano, and all in power at the club, will have looked on approvingly as the team made the biggest statement of Guardiola's short time in charge, against the club where his - and their - philosophy was formed.

This was the sort of thunderous celebration of football, and victory, they always had in mind through the years of courting Guardiola. This was why City's powerbrokers felt the wait for Guardiola was always going to be worthwhile.

They may have reached the Champions League semi-final under the low-profile Manuel Pellegrini last season, but they went down to Real Madrid with a whimper. The sight of Barcelona being beaten in an eye-to-eye thriller will have raised both the pulse rate and expectations.

This was not the sort of behind-the-door display that left City and their supporters frustrated against Real. Once Ilkay Gundogan equalised after a moment of carelessness from Sergi Roberto just before half-time, there was only going to be one winner.

They were perhaps more direct than the football of Guardiola's perfect world but their pace, movement, passing and unwavering attacking intent carried all of his hallmarks.

Guardiola recognised the significance of the win when he said: "It is a good step to say that once in our lives we played against the best team in the world and we beat them.

"We competed with Barcelona, but for now we did it in a different way. We played more long balls because we are still not ready to keep the ball and play like they do. They have been playing that way for 25 years. For us, it is three or four months we have been trying to play in a different style."

Guardiola's vision is clear. It is far too early to say one win, albeit against Barcelona, brings about the realisation of that vision - but this was a display that brought the future under his leadership into clearer view.

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