Claudio Bravo sent off on return to Nou Camp
UEFA Champions League, Group Stage
Wednesday 19 October 2016, 19.45 KO
City: Bravo, Zabaleta (Clichy 57), Otamendi, Stones, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Gundogan (Aguero 79), Silva, Sterling, Nolito (Caballero 57), De Bruyne
Unused: Fernando, Navas, Sane, Maffeo
Booked: Fernandinho, Sterling, Silva
Sent off: Bravo
Referee: Milorad Mažic (SRB)
Man of the match: Sterling
Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick, the 37th of his club career, as Barcelona comfortably beat City on Pep Guardiola's return to his old club. In some respects the scoreline was harsh on the Blues, who actually played better than on their two previous visits to the Nou Camp, but individual errors cost City dearly and resulted in an emphatic defeat.
The big news prior to kick-off was that Sergio Aguero, City's leading scorer and with four Champions League goals to his name already this season, was omitted from the starting line-up with Kevin De Bruyne starting as a "false nine". Guardiola opted to flood the midfield, and the tactic worked initially as City started brightly and greatly restricted Barcelona's usual possession game. However, an unfortunate slip by Fernandinho after 17 minutes gifted possession to Lionel Messi in the penalty area, and the Argentinian effortlessly rounded Claudio Bravo to give the hosts the lead.
The goal seemed to disrupt City's early rhythm, and Luis Suarez and Neymar both went close to extending Barcelona's advantage as the Blues struggled to retain a foothold in the game. However, as half-time approached, City began to fashion a number of chances themselves. Ilkay Gundogan saw his shot well saved by Marc-Andre ter Stegen after a jinking run in the box, whilst John Stones headed wide from 10 yards with the gaol at his mercy. The England international should have scored, but the miss was symptomatic of a disappointing all-round display from the centre-half. City were then aggrieved not to have been awarded a penalty shortly before the break, when Raheem Sterling's cross was handled by Digne, but the Serbian referee Mažic waved play on.
City started the second half still on the front foot, but De Bruyne was unable to find a team mate with successive crosses into Barcelona's area. Then came the game's pivotal moment, which put the hosts in full control. Bravo, perhaps needlessly, came rushing out of his box and gifted possession to Suarez. The Uruguayan striker sent the ball goalwards, but Bravo instinctively blocked it with his hands, leaving the referee little option but to send him off. Nolito, who had looked bright up to that point, was sacrificed to allow Willy Caballero to enter the fray.
Just four minutes later, Messi scored his second of the game with a low shot from the edge of the box. Messi then completed his hat-trick after 69 minutes from Suarez's cross, and the game was all but over as a contest. Substitute Jeremy Mathieu, a first half replacement for the injured Gerard Pique, was needlessly sent off for a second bookable offence on Raheem Sterling to leave both sides with ten men but it mattered little in the end.
Barcelona remained in control, and should've extended their lead further when Neymar saw his tame penalty saved by Caballero, but the Brazilian striker made amends in the final minute by curling a shot into the bottom corner.
It was a chastening experience for Guardiola, and the joint worst defeat of his managerial career, but he remained pragmatic after the game.
"We lost the game 4-0, but we are a new club, we are getting to know each other," he said. "We are a club that for 35 years was not in Europe.
"We came here and played with huge personality but it is always difficult to play Barcelona with 11. With 10 the game was over. Until then the game was open."