Manchester City staged a thrilling comeback to run Barcelona ragged and secure a fully deserved Champions League victory at Etihad Stadium Tuesday.
Lionel Messi’s 90th Champions League goal, a counter-attacking masterpiece complete with cool finish from Neymar’s pass, put Barcelona in control as half-time approached.
The whole emphasis of the game changed, however, six minutes before the interval when Sergi Roberto’s mistake allowed Raheem Sterling to set up Ilkay Gundogan’s simple finish.
City, seeking their first win over Barcelona at the sixth attempt, were irresistible from then on as Kevin de Bruyne’s free-kick curved past Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the 51st minute.
Andre Gomes crashed a shot against the bar as Barcelona pressed for an equaliser, but City wrapped up a landmark win against manager Pep Guardiola’s former team with 16 minutes left when De Bruyne played in Jesus Navas and, when his cross fell loose from Sergio Aguero, Gundogan was once more on the spot to score.
City will reach the knockout phase of the competition if they win on 23 November at Borussia Monchengladbach, who drew with Celtic on matchday four.
Guardiola’s methods may have been questioned after City’s 4-0 defeat at the Nou Camp, but this was just the sort of night Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi-based owners had in mind when they finally lured him to the Etihad.
City wanted to make the leap from the second tier of Europe’s clubs into the elite and nights like this, and performances like this, will increase confidence that he is the man who ensures they can bridge that gap.
This was a win achieved with all the Guardiola hallmarks, in a blaze of attacking football, passing, movement and a willingness to take on the best without forsaking his principles.
It was the most significant win of Guardiola’s reign so far – and offered up the rich promise of more to come.
Barcelona may have been missing the defensive power of Gerard Pique and the midfield influence of Andres Iniesta, but nothing should be taken away from the manner in which City exerted control and dominated the Catalans once they had equalised.
Whereas Barcelona’s big three of Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez faded, City’s big players came to the fore and terrorised Luis Enrique’s side in the second half.
Aguero ran with courage, threat and unlimited energy, Raheem Sterling – one piece of poor control aside – was outstanding and was denied a clear penalty early on, while Belgian De Bruyne was peerless.
He scored City’s second, unlocked Barcelona’s defence for the third and looked a player of world class, fully deserving his standing ovation when he was replaced near the end.
Meanwhile Mesut Ozil scored a stunning late goal as a resilient Arsenal came back from 2-0 down to beat Ludogorets Razgrad and reach the Champions League knockout stages.
Ozil was a picture of composure as he ran through on goal, chipped the keeper and cut inside two defenders before slotting in from close range for a dramatic winner.
Earlier on, Arsenal’s hopes of a repeat of their 6-0 win in the reverse tie were quickly dispelled when Jonathan Cafu put Ludogorets in front against the run of play by steering in a left-footed volley from a Wanderson free-kick.
Cafu turned provider three minutes later as he jinked past Kieran Gibbs and squared a ball for Claudiu Keseru to turn in as the Bulgarian side shocked the Gunners with a second in a frantic opening.
Granit Xhaka guided in a 15-yard shot from an Ozil cross to pull one back for Arsene Wenger’s side before Olivier Giroud expertly headed in Aaron Ramsey’s clipped cross to equalise.
Arsenal keeper David Ospina twice saved from Wanderson before Ozil secured his side’s progress into the last 16 and extended their unbeaten run to 15 games.
Other scores Tuesday: Atletico Madrid 2, FC Rostove 1; Borussia Monchengladbach 1, Celtic 1; Besiktas 1, Napoli 1; Basel 1, Paris St Germaine 2; Benfica 1, Dynamo Kiev 0; PSV Eindhoven 1, Bayern Munich 2.