BARCELONA – Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick as 10-man Manchester City lost 4-0 on Pep Guardiola’s return to Barcelona in the Champions League.
Messi punished Fernandinho’s slip in the 17th minute to give Barca the lead on Wednesday night, but City spurned several chances to draw level by half-time.
The game turned on 53 minutes when City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo was sent off on his return to the Nou Camp for deliberate handball.
Barca ruthlessly made their numerical advantage count as Messi struck twice in eight minutes to notch his 37th club treble.
Pep’s idea of a crisis?
Jeremy Mathieu’s dismissal for two bookable offences failed to derail the hosts as Neymar, having missed an 87th-minute penalty, atoned with Barca’s fourth a minute from time.
Victory moves Barca five points clear of second-placed City – who went a fourth game without a win in all competitions – in Group C with three games to play.
For the second game running, Sergio Aguero was surprisingly omitted from City’s starting line-up as Guardiola opted to pack midfield against a Barca side who recalled Messi and Andres Iniesta.
City implemented their game-plan well early on as an injury to Jordi Alba halted the game’s rhythm – that was until a moment of misfortune handed the hosts the lead.
Messi was first to react to Fernandinho’s loss of footing in the City area, allowing him to gather Iniesta’s cutback and round Bravo to put the hosts in front.
Ivan Rakitic should have doubled Barca’s lead on 32 minutes but headed Messi’s free-kick wide – and that heralded a host of City chances as the visitors ended the half stronger.
Having thwarted a low Nolito strike moments earlier, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen was alert to deny Ilkay Gundogan from point-blank range on 38 minutes.
After Gerard Pique was forced off injured, John Stones missed a glorious chance to level for City but headed David Silva’s cross wide on the stroke of half-time.
Kevin De Bruyne drew another fine save from Ter Stegen as City started the second period strongly, but their hopes of getting back into the contest were soon dashed as Bravo was shown a straight red card for handling Luis Suarez’s goal-bound effort outside his area after carelessly gifting the ball to the Barcelona forward.
Willy Caballero came on but couldn’t keep Barca at bay as Messi beat him at his near post within five minutes of him entering the fray.
Two soon became three as mistakes began to creep in City’s game. Gundogan’s misplaced pass fell for Suarez instead of Stones, and the Uruguayan squared the ball for Messi to tap home his third on 69 minutes.
The drama kept on coming as substitute Mathieu picked up two bookings for two needless challenges on Raheem Sterling.
With both sides down to 10 men, City began to challenge but Barca’s lead was never in danger as Neymar made sure of the victory.
Having failed to convert from the spot after Aleksandar Kolarov’s rash foul on Messi, Neymar atoned in stunning fashion with an excellent solo goal.
The Brazilian cut inside Stones’ feeble challenge before drilling the ball past Caballero to cap an emphatic Barca victory that will have left Guardiola to plenty of food for thought ahead of the return meeting in Manchester on Tuesday November 1.
You can watch Premier League football, plus England’s tour of Bangladesh and the US Grand Prix on Sky Sports. Upgrade now and enjoy six months at half price!