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Messi hat trick powers Barcelona to Champions League rout of Guardiola's Man City

Lionel Messi celebrates his third in Barcelona’s 4-0 thrashing of Man City. (Getty Images)

 

Pep Guardiola may be in the process of building a fine Barcelona replica with Manchester City, but when faced with the real deal on Wednesday, it was painfully clear that there isn’t yet a substitute for Barca’s ball-wizardry machine. Or indeed for Lionel Messi.

The little magician scored a hat trick in the 4-0 Barca win, with Neymar getting the final goal, as the game ended with both sides reduced to 10 men.

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Guardiola was demonstratively glad to return to the soccer cathedral where he made his name as both a midfielder and as a manager, giddily embracing his former teammate and successor Luis Enrique in the tunnel prior to the game. But it was not a happy return.


After a tentative start between sides fully cognizant of the other’s many tools for hurting them, a series of lovely Barca attacks eventually culminated in a first goal. Andres Iniesta’s backheel opened up room for Luis Suarez, but that play broke down.

But then, in the 17th minute, Javier Mascherano – playing as a makeshift right back – won the ball in City’s half. Messi raced off with it and played in Iniesta. The latter laid the ball back into the middle of the box, where no City defender reacted as quickly as Messi did – with Fernandinho slipping and the rest of them looking statuesque. The Argentine picked it up again and rounded former teammate Claudio Bravo to score easily.


Late in the first half, with half of Barca’s backline injured – Jordi Alba hobbled off early, and Gerard Pique was eventually felled by a David Silva tackle – City forged chances. Kevin De Bruyne tested Marc-Andre Ter Stegen to his near post. Nolito’s low shot was parried by the German goalkeeper as well. And Ilkay Gundogan was denied very capably by Ter Stegen from a promising spot. John Stones got an open header from a free kick, but he couldn’t put it on frame. And a late connection between Raheem Sterling and De Bruyne didn’t quite fit within the dimensions of the field, although the ball plainly hit Lucas Digne’s hand en route.

For long stretches, City had been the more dangerous side. But in the 53rd minute, the game was all but decided. Bravo misplayed a clearance right into Suarez’s feet outside his box. When the Uruguayan tried to chip him, the goalkeeper saved it with his hands, only he did so well outside his territory. He was rightly sent off for his infraction. On the same play, City captain and defensive glue Pablo Zabaleta took a knock and had to come off as well.


Soon enough, Barca got the safety goal. On a midfield turnover, Iniesta fed Messi, who scored coolly from the top of the box.


Several more Ter Stegen saves later, which should not go overlooked in assigning credit for a resounding Barca win, Messi got his hat trick. A stray City back pass was picked up by Suarez, whose simple cross to Messi made for an easy third.


Not much later, Jeremy Mathieu, the substitute for Pique, committed a second foul on Sterling in the course of just a few plays and was sent off, evening the numbers, but it was already too late for the visitors.

Besides, Aleksandar Kolarov chopped Messi down in the box in the late going. Neymar was rebuffed by Willy Caballero from the spot, but the frustrated Brazilian scored anyway, dancing through the City defense in a great individual effort in the 89th minute.


Also, to add insult to City’s many psychological injuries, Neymar did this.