Suarez scores brace as Barcelona down Man City
Luis Suarez returned to haunt Manchester City by scoring twice as Barcelona took control of their Champions League last 16 tie with a 2-1 away win on Tuesday.
Suarez was a thorn in City’s side last season, scoring 31 goals as Liverpool pushed Manuel Pellegrini’s team all the way in the title race, and his first-half brace set Barcelona on the way to a repeat of their 4-1 aggregate win over the same opponents from this time last year.
But Sergio Aguero struck in the 69th minute to give City something to build on in the second leg on March 18 and they were spared a heavier defeat in stoppage time when Lionel Messi won a penalty following a foul by Pablo Zabaleta, only for Joe Hart to save his spot-kick and for him to head the rebound wide.
Another echo of last year’s tie means that City will travel to Camp Nou without left-back Gael Clichy, however, after he followed Martin Demichelis and Zabaleta’s example from 2014 by getting sent off for two bookable offences.
Pellegrini had opted for a cautious approach when the teams first met a year ago, fielding Alvaro Negredo as a lone striker and packing the midfield, but he changed tack dramatically for the reunion by using Edin Dzeko up front alongside Aguero in an adventurous 4-4-2 formation.
It was a gameplan that unravelled at dizzying speed, as the decision to deploy Fernando as a sole holding midfielder in the absence of the suspended Yaya Toure gave Barcelona acres of space to flood into.
Vincent Kompany volleyed a lofted pass from Messi narrowly wide of his own goal, Demichelis blocked from Messi and Suarez hit the side-netting before Barcelona broke through in the 16th minute.
Messi’s right-wing cross struck Kompany on the back as he covered Suarez’s run towards the near post and the former Liverpool talisman pounced to lash a left-foot shot across Hart and in.
In response, Dzeko headed wide from Clichy’s cross, but Barcelona were already in control, with Messi nonchalantly nutmegging David Silva inside his own half shortly before Suarez hared onto Neymar’s pass and forced Hart to make a sprawling save.
The second goal arrived on the half hour and had Messi at its root, the Argentine jinking past three players and finding Jordi Alba, whose low cross was gleefully touched home by the sliding Suarez.
Neymar saw a lob hacked off the line by Kompany, Hart saved bravely from Messi and Dani Alves hit the bar with a mishit cross, before Samir Nasri finally drew a save from visiting goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen on the stroke of half-time.
Ter Stegen had rather more to do in the opening stages of the second half, but City could not convert the initial opportunities they made.
Dzeko squandered two headed chances — putting one wide and sending another straight at Ter Stegen from six yards out — while the German also caught a header from Demichelis and saw Aguero fire a shot just wide.
Clichy’s first booking arrived in the 59th minute when he tripped Ivan Rakitic, shortly before City introduced Fernandinho for Nasri and Champions League debutant Wilfried Bony in place of Dzeko.
With 21 minutes remaining, Aguero gave City a lifeline, gathering a neat back-heel from Silva and ghosting past Gerard Pique before slamming home.
Clichy’s second booking, for a clumsy kick at Alves, dampened the mood, but Messi’s penalty mishap gave the home fans inside the Etihad Stadium late encouragement.