Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Guendogan (left) scores his team’s third goal against Barcelona during their UEFA Champions League Group C match at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, northwest England, on Tuesday. City won 3-1.
Pep Guardiola reckoned he had just seen his new Manchester City charges trounce “the best team in the world” and now hopes the effect of one special Champions League night against Barcelona could leave a profound mark on his club’s future.
City’s handsome 3-1 victory on Tuesday, carrying the slick pass-and-move imprints of the best Guardiola creations, felt like a landmark for the wealthy ‘wannabes’ who have long strived for the continental performances to match their financial clout.
They may lack a grand tradition in Europe like Barcelona but now have the coach who once helped the Catalans revolutionize the game — and he recognized something hugely significant in the way they came from behind to dominate.
“History means when you face the big teams you are confident to fight against them. We are only three or four months into playing a different way,” Guardiola said after an Ilkay Guendogan double and a Kevin de Bruyne free kick overturned Barcelona’s lead through Lionel Messi.
“We try and now we realize we won against the best team. For the future generations, they are going to realize ‘Wow these guys are able to beat the best team’.
“It is the same when the group of Joe Hart and Vincent Kompany won the Premier League twice. The players who come now know they have to do that.”
After five times being outplayed by Barcelona in recent European combat, City turned the tables in unlikely fashion after 40 minutes of Barcelona control which persuaded Guardiola that the club he once led to two European titles still has “the best team in the world”.
Yet once a defensive lapse had set up Guendogan’s equalizer before halftime, Guardiola reckoned “it changed absolutely everything for our mood” and City then gave Barcelona a rare runaround in a game littered with errors amid excellence.
Barcelona’s vaunted trident of Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez seemed to shrink in comparison to Sergio Aguero while the magnificent De Bruyne ran the midfield show with Fernandinho, Guendogan and David Silva.
Now it appears Guardiola has come through the worst winless streak of his career with attacking principles and confidence still intact after winning what he had billed as City’s “final”.
For even if City still have work to do to reach the knockout stages from Group C — it is just two points behind Barcelona in second now — it is hard to escape the feeling all the Pep talking might yet transform another club’s face and ambition.
Barcelona boss Luis Enrique insisted his team will not be knocked off course by the loss.
The Spanish champion is second in La Liga two points behind arch rival Real Madrid and faces a testing game on Sunday at high-flying Sevilla, which is a point behind it, with Luis Enrique declaring his team would not dwell on the City defeat.
“We have to get up and keep going. We never sit back when we win and we don’t sink when we lose. Defeats are everyone’s responsibility, above all the coach’s, and we’re going to keep getting better,” he said.
Barcelona suffered scathing criticism from the Catalan press for its collapse at the Etihad, with the daily Sport declaring that “Barcelona got itself into a twist” and “threw away a game that was half won, overpowered by City’s intensity”.
Mundo Deportivo, meanwhile, likened Barcelona’s surrender in the second half, after it took an early lead, to a power cut.
Luis Enrique emphasized Barcelona’s domination of City for most of the first period, in which Messi scored, but conceded that it never recovered from Sergi Roberto’s misplaced pass which allowed Guendogan to level before the break.
“This is how it is, this isn’t a drinks machine where you hit a button and a can of Coke comes out. If anyone turned their TV off after 40 minutes they wouldn’t have believed we lost the game,” the Barcelona boss said.
Barcelona is top of Group C on nine points, and a win in one of its remaining games against Celtic or Borussia Moenchengladbach would see it qualify for the last 16, while four points will ensure it wins the group.