Luis Suarez’s first-half brace from close range sealed a vital away win for Barcelona at Manchester City in a Uefa Champions League last 16 first leg tie on Tuesday.
The former Liverpool striker rifled his ruthless left-footed finish into the bottom corner of Joe Hart’s goal just after the opening quarter and then stabbed in Jordi Alba’s low cross for his second career goal at the Etihad Stadium.
Sergio Aguero fired past Marc-Andre ter Stegen after an hour to reduce City’s arrears but the English Premier League side were down to ten men five minutes later as full-back Gael Clichy was shown his second yellow card for clattering Dani Alves in the knee.
The Brazilian full-back watched his delightful clipped effort ricochet off the top of the bar in the dying minutes of the first half.
Hart saved Lionel Messi’s penalty kick in just the last action of the game, few minutes after the Argentine forward’s clever goal was ruled for an offside.
City’s main concern before kickoff centred on curtailing the ever present Messi in the absence of Yaya Toure, who was serving the last of his three-game European ban after he was sent off against CSKA in November. But it turned out Suarez’s night as the Uruguayan striker finally broke his Etihad Stadium hoodoo, repeating his goal-scoring knack in front of Hart against whom he scored twice in the World Cup in goal for England.
Manuel Pellegrini named the frontline pair of Edin Dzeko and Aguero with James Miner employed in the midfield and new boy Wilfried Bony starting from the bench. Barca opted for the attacking trio of Neymar, Messi and Suarez in their starting lineup.
The Baulgranas got off to a dream start, despite City’s intermittent high pressing football. Dzeko’s first sight of goal was blocked after Milner chipped a free-kick over to the Bosnian.
Suarez ran towards goal after collecting Fernando’s loose ball but shot into the side-netting. The former Ajax man made no mistake on his next try when Messi’s simple cross rebounded off Vincent Kompany body into his path and he finished home from close range.
City almost responded immediately but Dzeko climbed head and shoulder above every man in Barca’s box only to head wide.
Barcelona were having their way in early play, while a relaxed City needed inspiration to raise the home crowd’s mood. Neymar freed Suarez in the 27th minute one-on-one with Hart, who blocked with his feet.
The City goalkeeper was afforded none of those opportunities three minutes later as Suarez turned in Alba’s low cross following a nice work by Messi.
Hart was called into action again six minutes later following a neat Neymar-Messi combination, which ended with the latter’s decent touch being smothered by the goalkeeper.
Nasri drew a comfortable save from Ter Stegen at the break, as the Cityzens proceeded into the tunnel needing to overturn a two-goal deficit.
Pellegrini’s half-time team talk appeared to have injected life into the hosts’ play after they forced two quick corners on restart, with Dzeko heading the second wide from David Silva’s delivery.
Dzeko’s free header nested straight into Ter Stegen’s hands moments after Javier Mascherano blocked Nasri’s goalbound shot.
Aguero curled his short inches wide of the far post after connecting with Silva’s pass to burst clear at goal.
A much improved City side continued to threaten on set pieces in the second half as Martin Demichelis’ header lacked intensity to trouble Ter Stegen. A couple other half chances failed to reflect on the scoreline before Aguero pulled one back for Pellegrini’s men.
The Argentine handed the English champions a lifeline in the 69th minute, when he smashed past Ter Stegen after collecting Silva’s defence-splitting backheel.
Barcelona were back on top after Clichy was sent off for a clumsy challenge on Alves, but every expectation of a killer goal failed to materialise, as Hart repelled Messi’s low spot-kick before the final whistle.