Manchester City’s hopes of advancing deeper into Europe were left hanging in the balance after they were viciously dismantled by Barcelona in the first leg of their Women’s Champions League quarter-final following goals from Asisat Oshoala, Mariona Caldentey and Jenni Hermoso.
In a match moved from Barcelona to Stadio Brianteo in Monza, Italy because of Covid-19 restrictions, the importance of the encounter was clear. Over their past two Champions League campaigns, Manchester City have been beaten by the previous Spanish champions Atlético Madrid in the knockout stages.
But the new Spanish champions are arguably even more brilliant. Barcelona have spent this season tearing the Primera Division apart with 20 wins in 20 league games, 99 goals scored and three conceded. The lingering question was exactly what their bulldozing of domestic competition would mean against the best teams in Europe, particularly given a carelessness in front of goal that cost them in last year’s 1-0 semi-final loss to Wolfsburg.
They offered an answer promptly. While Manchester City were wasteful on the ball when under close examination from the Barcelona press and struggled to escape their own half, Barça suffocated City with the quality of their possession. The devastation wreaked on the right flank by Caroline Graham Hansen and Marta Torrejón was particularly severe.
It took City 25 minutes to generate their first notable chance and they were kept in the game only by a supreme performance from the goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck, who pulled off a trio of saves early on to keep the away side level and then limited the deficit throughout.
But a goalkeeper can only do so much. After missing her first clear opportunity of the game, Oshoala converted a far more complicated chance. She picked up the ball at the edge of the box and slotted a delightful low finish to the left, which clipped the inside of the post on its way into the net.
In the second half, the waves of blaugrana shirts eventually overwhelmed City. After an excellent last-ditch tackle from Demi Stokes to deny Hansen who was through on goal, she brought Oshoala down inside the box and Caldentey coolly slotted the ensuing penalty into the right corner.
A few minutes later, a bursting run from Lauren Hemp, City’s outstanding performer, into the box drew a foul by María Pilar León and offered them a potential lifeline. But Chloe Kelly’s penalty, although struck hard, was too central and the Barcelona goalkeeper Sandra Paños saved well.
Manchester City enjoyed their best spell after falling down two goals, but Barcelona remained composed and then landed an effortless final blow. After lovely buildup play from all, Hermoso fed Alexia Putellas inside the box with a slick through ball. When the finish came back off a post, Hermoso coolly slotted the rebound home.